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Comparison on primary and rechargeable batteries

Batteries are used in our daily life to provide energy for a wide range of cordless equipment and tools such as mobile phones, cordless phones, notebook computers, digital cameras, toys, electronic game sets, radios etc. Batteries used in various equipment

Batteries are mainly classified into primary (single use) and secondary (rechargeable) batteries and can be of different shapes and sizes, including AA, AAA, C, D, 6V, 9V, button shape and some specialized batteries.


Different types of Batteries

Rechargeable Vs Single-Use Batteries

Primary Battery Types

Type Remarks
Zinc Carbon Commonly used in daily applications. Not suitable for devices that require high current.
Alkaline Manganese Commonly used in daily applications. Longer service life than Zinc Carbons.
Lithium Usually used in light weight electronic devices.
Silver Oxide Button cells
Zinc Air


Secondary Battery Types

Type Remarks
Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd) (i) Can be recharged for 500-1000 times.
(ii) Perform better on "heavy continuous drain" devices.
Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH)
Lithium Ion (Li-ion)
Lead Acid Usually used as car batteries and backup power supply.


Rechargeable Vs Single-Use Batteries

Rechargeable Battery
Single-Use battery
Long Term Cost
Less Costly
More Costly
Amount of Battery Waste Generated
Recycling Cost Effectiveness
Not effective


Consumer Council's test on rechargeable & single-use batteries CHOICE # 309
Rechargeable batteries: a win-win option for both consumers and environment Use rechargeable batteries - to not only save money but also reduce solid wastes.
Here are some of the facts, based on a Consumer Council test on 18 models of NiMH (nickel metal hydride) rechargeable batteries, that show the benefits to both the consumers and the environment:

  • Rechargeable batteries performed better on "heavy continuous drain" devices (e.g. motor toy car, digital camera); they lasted longer than alkaline batteries on a single charge.
  • Rechargeable batteries may not last as long as alkaline batteries on a single charge in low drain (e.g. radio), medium drain (MD player), and pulse drain devices (photoflash); but NiMH batteries can be reused over several hundred times while alkaline batteries can be used only once.
  • Take, for instance, the case of a MD player that uses one AA size rechargeable battery. The cost saving in operating the device for 2,000 hours is as much as 50% of the total purchase price of alkaline batteries used.
  • While the rechargeable battery is still usable and has not created any solid waste, as many as 51 alkaline batteries have been spent for the entire duration of the operation and produced waste of an equal number of used batteries.
  • So, the longer the rechargeable battery operates the more the cost saving - and solid waste reduction.
  • No mercury was found in NiMH rechargeable batteries, and the cadmium and lead contents were within the limit of EC Directive.

Article extracted from Consumer Council press release dated 15 July 2002. Environmental Concerns of Batteries Every year, more than 120 million batteries are consumed in Hong Kong and the majority of them are primary batteries. Primary Battery (80-90%) Secondary Battery (10-20%)

The main environmental concerns of batteries are the harmful materials they contain, such as Mercury (Hg), Cadmium (Cd) and Lead (Pb). Batteries containing these materials need to be carefully disposed of to avoid the harmful effects on human health and environment.

Why we don't recycle disposable batteries?
The recycling of disposable or single-use batteries has far fewer economic and environmental benefits than recycling rechargeable batteries. Here's why: Disposable batteries are much more expensive to recycle than rechargeable ones, and the small amounts of iron, zinc and manganese that can be recovered have low value. Moreover, the recycling facilities are mainly located in Europe and the US so shipping would add to the cost. Disposable batteries contain less hazardous metals than rechargeable ones, especially since governments started restricting their mercury content. Since 1999, the European Union has limited mercury content in disposable batteries to 0.0005% by weight. Most batteries sold in Hong Kong comply with that standard, according to a 2002 Consumer Council study. Mainland China has prohibited the manufacturing of alkaline batteries with mercury content greater than 0.0001% since January 2005. Hong Kong is equipped to safely dispose of batteries. Our landfills are lined with impermeable liners and we also collect and treat landfill leachate before discharging it into sewers. Nonetheless, rechargeable batteries remain the best choice because they can be re-used hundreds of times, are more cost-effective to recycle and create less waste.
Graph showing the Trend in Mercury content in Waste Battteris and New Batteries in Europe
With the gradually tightening up to allowable mercury content in single-use batteries in many places in the world, mercury content in waste batteries has greatly decreased.
Source : European Portable Battery Association.

How can I help to reduce environmental impact of batteries ?

Environmentally friendly tips on battery use
If you use batteries properly, you can make them last longer. That helps to reduce demand for new batteries and also reduces waste.
Use Rechargeable Batteries
Use rechargeable batteries whenever possible. Rechargeable batteries create less waste than disposable ones because they can be re-used hundreds of times and are more cost-effective to recycle.
Nickel Cadmium batteries should be avoided if possible because the cadmium is hazardous. Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium Ion batteries are better environmental alternatives.
Select NiMH or Li-ion Batteries
Choose Mercury & Cadmium Free Batteries
If your only choice is disposable batteries, select ones that are Mercury-free and Cadmium-free.
Do not store batteries where they may be subject to direct sunlight, high temperatures and high humidity. Instead, store them in a cool and dry place.
Store Batteries in a Cool & Dry place
Do not store Batteries with Metallic Objects
Do not store batteries alongside metallic objects such as keys and coins as these can short-circuit batteries and significantly reduce their usable life.
Do not use rechargeable batteries with non-rechargeable batteries as this can shorten the life of the batteries and may cause battery leakage.
Do not use Rechargeable and Non-rechargeable Batteries Together
Switch off the Device after Use
Be sure to switch off electrical and electronic devices after use.
Return rechargeable batteries for recycling.
Remove batteries from battery-operated equipment and recycle them before disposing of the equipment.