Characteristics, Advantages, Limitations of Primary Disposable vs. Secondary Rechargeable Batteries

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Rechargeable or disposable batteries are both good battery choices for electronic applications.  Disposable batteries are largely used for powering low voltage devices that are not used often — such as flashlights, calculators, clocks and smoke alarms.  Many portable electronic devices — such as laptops, smartphones and MP3 players will only accept rechargeable batteries.  While other devices, including digital cameras and certain toys can use either rechargeable or traditional disposable batteries.  In this article, we will explore how rechargeable batteries stack up against their disposable counterparts and detail the characteristics of both types. 

What are the characteristics of disposable batteries?

The most common disposable battery is the alkaline and it has all of the standard sizes available for typical electronic devices.  Standard sizes include AAA, AA, C, D, and the 9 volt as well as lantern batteries in 6 and 12 volt.  Disposable batteries provide a great initial charge, which makes them the perfect battery for low voltage applications.

What are the characteristics of rechargeable batteries?

Secondary rechargeable batteries are nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, lithium or sealed lead acid.  They come in a variety of sizes and voltages.  They are often used for electronic devices that demand more power and regular battery replacement.  They also guarantee extended battery life, which makes them the perfect battery for high-drain frequent-use applications. 

Will I save more money by using rechargeable or disposable batteries?

In the short term, you will save more money by purchasing disposable batteries, since the initial expense is less.  However, over the long term, rechargeable batteries will provide better cost savings. This is especially true with items used frequently such as toys and high draining electronic devices. The initial cost for rechargeable batteries and charging units will be more expensive than disposable batteries. However, if you change batteries routinely on heavily used devices that pull a lot of energy, rechargeables make more sense. Although the price tag on rechargeable batteries may appear high, if well cared for, they can provide 1,000s of hours of use, and can last months — even years.   

Over time, rechargeable batteries tend to lose their ability to hold a charge, giving disposable batteries a clear advantage in consistent dependability and strength.  Rechargeable batteries also lack versatility.  While a primary disposable battery can often be used with a wide range of products, rechargeable batteries are rarely interchangeable.

Which type of battery, rechargeables or disposables, are more convenient and easier for me to handle?

When it comes to ease and convenience, disposable batteries are the better choice.  When a disposable battery stops working, it can be easily replaced with a new one.  Waiting for rechargeable batteries to charge fully before they are reused can be a major inconvenience.  However, to avoid this, if rechargeable batteries make good sense for your particular use, then consider purchasing extra batteries so you have a rotation of rechargeables.  The additional batteries can be charged and waiting for convenient replacement. 

Are there any dangers associated with rechargeable or disposable batteries?

Yes.  Both rechargeable and disposable batteries contain toxic metals.  Rechargeable batteries are less toxic than disposables, but they do still contain hazardous materials and must be handled with care.  Rechargeable batteries are more prone to exploding or starting fires than disposable batteries, especially if they are exposed to dangerous conditions such as extreme temperatures, faulty connections or sparks.  Consumers must take extra care to use both rechargeable and disposable batteries responsibly. 

What is the environmental impact of rechargeable and disposable batteries?

Disposable batteries used to contain very high levels of mercury, but the amounts used have greatly decreased over the last couple of decades and some brands use none at all.  Still, many do contain a small amount of mercury and they should always be recycled.  Rechargeable batteries produce far less waste than their disposable counterparts.  This can be seen in both packaging and the product itself.  Additionally, rechargeable batteries have less of an impact on global warming, ozone pollution, air acidification and water pollution.  They also release an estimated 12 times less toxic waste than disposables and use far fewer non-renewable natural resources. 

It is important to know neither disposable nor rechargeable batteries should be discarded with regular trash.  They are classified as hazardous waste and need to be disposed of in a special manner.  The good news is that by law, retail outlets in most states accept old batteries for recycling.  To learn more about where and what old batteries can be recycled or to find a recycling center near you, contact the RBRC at 1-800-822-8837 or visit their online drop location finder at      

The question of whether you should purchase rechargeable vs. disposable batteries really comes down to personal use and cost.  How often are the devices used and how much energy do they consume? Low wattage clocks, remote controls, flashlights and rarely used items, will be a better choice for disposable batteries because they will last for at least a few months. Alternatively, toys, radios and frequently used energy consuming electronic devices would be the best candidates for rechargeable batteries and would save money in the long run. The cost per kilowatt-hour is much higher in disposable batteries. In both cases, consider the environment while using these batteries. Many retail stores will accept used batteries and provide for proper and safe disposal.

For more information on rechargeable and non-rechargeable disposable batteries, visit our website at or call us at 877-469-4255.

By jennymwright

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