The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

, Volume 21, Issue 12, pp 1691–1705 | Cite as

Life cycle assessment of consumption choices: a comparison between disposable and rechargeable household batteries

  • Giovanni Dolci
  • Camilla Tua
  • Mario Grosso
  • Lucia Rigamonti



The demand for household batteries is considerable in the European context with just over five billion placed on the market every year. Although disposable batteries account for the largest market share in Europe, the use of rechargeable batteries is promoted as a less waste generating and a more environmentally friendly practice. A comparative life cycle assessment was therefore carried out to verify this assertion.


The study compared, with a life cycle perspective, the use of disposable alkaline batteries to that of rechargeable NiMH batteries, considering the AA and AAA sizes. The comparison focused on the factors that were expected to have an higher influence on the results: consumer choices during the purchase for disposable devices (typology of battery pack, selected brand, which affects the production country, and mode of transport of batteries for the purchasing round trip) and during the use phase for rechargeable batteries (number of charge cycles and source of the electricity used for the recharge). The waste generation indicator, 13 midpoint impact indicators on the environment and the human health, and the Cumulative energy demand indicator were calculated in support of the assessment.

Results and discussion

For waste generation, the choice of NiMH rechargeable batteries is highly convenient also with a reduced number of uses. On the contrary, for the environmental indicators and the energy consumption, the picture is less straightforward, being heavily dependent on the number of charge cycles. For the impact categories Acidification, Human toxicity (cancer effects), and Particulate matter, an “inefficient” use of the rechargeable devices (for only 20 charge cycles or less) could cause higher impacts than the employment of disposable batteries. Moreover, for the Ozone depletion, NiMH batteries are hardly environmentally better than alkaline batteries even with 150 recharges.

Conclusions and recommendations

The number of uses of rechargeable batteries plays a key role on their environmental and energy performances. When compared to disposable batteries, a minimum number of 50 charge cycles permits a robust reduction of the potential impacts for all the analyzed indicators excluding the Ozone depletion. Hence, the use of rechargeable batteries should be mostly encouraged for high consumption devices such as cameras, torches, and electronic toys.


Alkaline Disposable batteries Household batteries Life cycle assessment Nickel metal hydride Rechargeable batteries 



The research was financially supported by the Eureka foundation. We gratefully acknowledge the president Carlo Mazzola and the project manager Francesca Mazzieri. We also thank the COBAT Consortium, the Centro di Coordinamento Nazionale Pile e Accumulatori and the Società Italiana Ambiente Ecologia s.r.l. that provided useful data and information.

Supplementary material

11367_2016_1134_MOESM1_ESM.docx (474 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 474 kb)


  1. Batteryholders (2007) The comprehensive Battery Holders and Battery Contact Information.
  2. Batteryholders (2009) The comprehensive Battery Holders and Battery Contact Information.
  3. Biganzoli L, Falbo A, Forte F, Grosso M, Rigamonti L (2015) Mass balance and life cycle assessment of the waste electrical and electronic equipment management system implemented in Lombardia Region (Italy). Sci Total Environ 524:361–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Briffaerts K, Spirinckx C, Van der Linden A, Vrancken K (2009) Waste battery treatment options: comparing their environmental performance. Waste Manag 29(8):2321–2331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Consorzio Nazionale Raccolta e Riciclo (COBAT) (2014) Personal communication with a study and research division managerGoogle Scholar
  6. Creazza A, Dallari F (2007) La gestione dei pallet nei moderni sistemi distributivi. Luic Papers n. 203, Serie Tecnologica 11Google Scholar
  7. de Souza CCBM, de Oliveira DC, Tenório JAS (2001) Characterization of used alkaline batteries powder and analysis of zinc recovery by acid leaching. J Power Sources 103(1):120–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Doka G (2009) Life Cycle Inventories of Waste Treatment Services. Part II “Waste incineration”. Ecoinvent report No 13, Swiss Centre for LCI, St. GallenGoogle Scholar
  9. Dones R, Bauer C, Bolliger R, Burger B, Heck T, Rӧder A, Emmenegger MF, Frischknecht R, Jungbluth N, Tuchschmid M (2007) Life cycle inventories of energy systems: results for current systems in Switzerland and other UTCE Countries. Ecoinvent report No. 5, Swiss Centre for LCI, Villigen and UsterGoogle Scholar
  10. Ecoinvent centre (2014) Ecoinvent Version 3.1 (2014) Database. Accessed January 2015
  11. European Commission (2013) Commission Recommendation of 9 April 2013 on the use of common methods to measure and communicate the life cycle environmental performance of products and organizations. OJ L, 124, 4.5.2013Google Scholar
  12. European Parliament and Council (2006) Directive 2006/66/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 September 2006 on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators and repealing Directive 91/157/EEC. OJ L, 266, 26.9.2006Google Scholar
  13. European Portable Battery Association (EPBA) (2011) EPBA Sustainability Report 2010 - Looking back, looking ahead. Past achievements, ongoing efforts and future perspectives of the European portable battery industry. Brussels, Belgium.
  14. European Portable Battery Association (EPBA) (2014) The collection of waste portable batteries in Europe in view of the achievability of the collection targets set by Batteries Directive 2006/66/EC.
  15. Finnveden G, Hauschild MZ, Ekvall T, Guinée J, Heijungs R, Hellweg S, Koehler A, Pennington D, Suh S (2009) Recent developments in life cycle assessment. J Environ Manag 91(1):1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fisher K, Wallén E, Laenen PP, Collins M (2006) Battery Waste Management Life Cycle Assessment. Study conducted for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
  17. Gasper P, Hines J, Miralda JP, Bonhomme R, Schaufeld J, Apelian D, Wang Y (2013) Economic feasibility of a mechanical separation process for recycling alkaline batteries. J New Mat Electr Sys 16(4):297–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gestore Servizi Energetici (GSE) (2014) Rapporto Statistico 2013 - Solare fotovoltaico. %20Bilanci/GSE_Documenti/osservatorio %20statistico/Il %20Solare %20fotovoltaico %202013.pdf
  19. Gozzetti R (2014a) I Paesi che hanno prodotto più zinco nel mondo. Accessed on November 2014
  20. Gozzetti R (2014b) I 10 Paesi che producono più cobalto nel mondo. Accessed on November 2014
  21. Haxel GB, Hedrick JB, Orris GJ (2002) Rare Earth Elements - Critical Resources for High Technology. U.S. Geological Survey.
  22. Hischier R, Classen M, Lehmann M, Scharnhorst W (2007) Life Cycle Inventories of Electric and Electronic Equipment: Production, Use and Disposal - Part II, Modules. Ecoinvent report No. 18, Swiss Centre for LCI, DübendorfGoogle Scholar
  23. Hischier R, Weidema B, Althaus HJ, Bauer C, Doka G, Dones R, Frischknecht R, Hellweg S, Humbert S, Jungbluth N, Köllner T, Loerincik Y, Margni M, Nemecek T (2010) Implementation of Life Cycle Impact Assessment Methods. Ecoinvent report No 3, Swiss Centre for LCI, DübendorfGoogle Scholar
  24. ISO (2006a) ISO 14040: Environmental management - Life cycle assessment - Principles and frameworkGoogle Scholar
  25. ISO (2006b) ISO 14044: Environmental management - Life cycle assessment - Requirements and guidelinesGoogle Scholar
  26. Kuck PH (2012) Mineral Commodity Summaries 2012 - Nickel. U.S. Geological Survey.
  27. Lankey RL, McMichael FC (2000) Life-cycle methods for comparing primary and rechargeable batteries. Environ Sci Technol 34(11):2299–2304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Linden D, Reddy TB (2002) Handbook of batteries - third edition. McGraw-Hill Handbooks, Electronics Book SeriesGoogle Scholar
  29. Martinez-Sanchez V, Kromann MA, Astrup TF (2015) Life cycle costing of waste management systems: overview, calculation principles and case studies. Waste Manag 36:343–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Morioka Y, Narukawa S, Itou T (2001) State-of-the-art of alkaline rechargeable batteries. J Power Sources 100(1-2):107–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nessi S, Rigamonti L, Grosso M (2012) LCA of waste prevention activities: a case study for drinking water in Italy. J Environ Manag 108:73–83. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2012.04.025 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Olivetti E, Gregory J, Kirchain R (2011) Life cycle impacts of alkaline batteries with a focus on end of life. A study conducted for the National Electrical Manufacturers AssociationGoogle Scholar
  33. Parsons D (2007) The environmental impact of disposable versus rechargeable batteries for consumer use. Int J Life Cycle Assess 12(3):197–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pietrelli L, Bellomo B, Fontana D, Montereali M (2005) Characterization and leaching of NiCd and NiMH spent batteries for the recovery of metals. Waste Manag 25(2):221–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rigamonti L, Grosso M (2009) Riciclo dei rifiuti. Dario Flaccovio Editore, Palermo (IT)Google Scholar
  36. Rigamonti L, Falbo A, Grosso M (2013) Improving integrated waste management at the regional level: the case of Lombardia. Waste Manag Res 31(9):946–953CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rigamonti L, Grosso M, Møller J, Martinez Sanchez V, Magnani S, Christensen TH (2014) Environmental evaluation of plastic waste management scenarios. Resour Conserv Recy 85:42–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rydh CJ, Karlström M (2002) Life cycle inventory of recycling portable nickel-cadmium batteries. Resour Conserv Recy 34(4):289–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sayilgan E, Kukrer T, Civelekoglu G, Ferella F, Akcil A, Veglio F, Kitis M (2009) A review of technologies for the recovery of metals from spent alkaline and zinc-carbon batteries. Hydrometallurgy 97(3-4):158–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Società Italiana Ambiente Ecologia s.r.l. (SIAE) (2014). Personal communication with a research and development managerGoogle Scholar
  41. Sullivan JL, Gaines L (2010) A Review of Battery Life-Cycle Analysis: State of Knowledge and Critical Needs. Centre for Transportation Research, Energy Systems Division, Argonne National Laboratory.
  42. The Shift Project Data Portal - Datasets on Electricity statistics. Accessed on November 2014
  43. Turconi R, Butera S, Boldrin A, Grosso M, Rigamonti L, Astrup T (2011) Life cycle assessment of waste incineration in Denmark and Italy using two LCA models. Waste Manag Res 29(10):78–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. U.S. International Trade Commission (2003) Electrolytic Manganese Dioxide from Australia, China, Greece, Ireland, Japan and South Africa. WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  45. Van Oers L, de Koning A, Guinée JB, Huppes G (2002) Abiotic resource depletion in LCA -Improving characterisation factors for abiotic resource depletion as recommended in the new Dutch LCA Handbook.
  46. Vassura I, Morselli L, Bernardi E, Passarini F (2009) Chemical characterisation of spent rechargeable batteries. Waste Manag 29(8):2332–2335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. World Steel Association (2014) Steel Statistical Yearbook, 2014. Worldsteel Committee on Economic Studies, Brussels.
  48. Xará SM, Almeida M, Costa C (2014) Life cycle assessment of alternatives for recycling abroad alkaline batteries from Portugal. Int J Life Cycle Assess 19(7):1382–1408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ying TK, Gao XP, Hu WK, Wu F, Noréus D (2006) Studies on rechargeable NiMH batteries. Int J Hydrog Energ 31(4):525–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giovanni Dolci
    • 1
  • Camilla Tua
    • 1
  • Mario Grosso
    • 1
  • Lucia Rigamonti
    • 1
  1. 1.Politecnico di Milano, DICA−Environmental SectionMilanoItaly

Personalised recommendations