Making the Case for Both Disposable and Rechargeable Batteries


Where do you stand in the debate over disposable vs. rechargeable batteries? There are people who make a very good case for disposable alkaline batteries as the go-to choice for consumer electronics. But others make an equally compelling case for rechargeable batteries – particularly lithium-ion cells.

You could probably make the case for both if you tried hard enough. In reality, neither battery technology is superior nor inferior to the other in every aspect. They both have their pros and cons. There are times when disposable batteries are the best choice. Lithium-ion batteries are better at other times.

Let us look at three aspects of battery use to make the point:

1. Cost

It would be no surprise to learn that the people who prefer disposable alkaline batteries point to cost as a motivating factor in their purchase decisions. At the register, disposable batteries cost less. You could make the case that they are the better choice when you do not have the extra money to invest in rechargeable batteries.

On the other hand, it is easy to make a financial case for rechargeables. Consider a 4-pack of Pale Blue Earth rechargeable batteries in the AA form factor. You will spend about $30 on them. On the other hand, you can buy a 4-pack of alkaline batteries for less than five dollars. PBE’s batteries are six times more expensive at the cash register. But wait. You can recharge a PBE battery 1,000 times or more.

A single rechargeable lithium-ion battery will offer excellent performance for years. Looked at on those terms, you would actually spend less on rechargeables than you would on the equivalent in alkaline batteries.

2. Convenience

Rechargeable batteries generally win the convenience battle simply because it is more convenient to plug in a charger than run to the store to buy new batteries. Convenience might also be borne out in recycling practices. But that depends on your view of recycling.

If you would recycle both disposable and rechargeable batteries, rechargeables are more convenient because you end up traveling to the drop off location less frequently. But if you are predisposed to throwing alkaline batteries in the trash, doing so is more convenient than recycling.

Disposable batteries might prove more convenient for some practical applications as well. Perhaps you are planning to spend two weeks taking photographs in the mountains. You will have no means of recharging your lithium-ion batteries. Suddenly, alkaline disposables become more convenient.

3. Performance

For some people, performance is the primary factor. Disposable alkaline batteries have long been known for consistent performance from start to finish. They offer a consistent discharge rate, slow self-discharge, and a shelf life of up to 10 years.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are comparable to alkalines in every point. Their discharge rate is only slightly faster. And as long as they are kept charged, their shelf life is equal to most disposable products. Finally, they discharge just as consistently.

Unfortunately, NiCad and NiMH batteries do not compare on the performance front. Their discharge and self-discharge rates are considerably faster. Their shelf lives tend to be shorter as well. Finally, neither type of battery discharges consistently. Thus, their performance in the field is not nearly as good as alkaline or lithium-ion batteries.

It should be obvious that one could make the case for both disposable and rechargeable batteries. It really depends on what is most important for a given application. Disposable batteries win the day in some cases; rechargeables win in others. It is up to you to decide which battery is best for your needs.