Life cycle assessment of consumption choices: a comparison between disposable and rechargeable household batteries
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.
KeywordsAlkaline 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.
- Batteryholders (2007) The comprehensive Battery Holders and Battery Contact Information. http://www.batteryholders.org/aaa.pdf
- Batteryholders (2009) The comprehensive Battery Holders and Battery Contact Information. http://www.batteryholders.org/aa.pdf
- Consorzio Nazionale Raccolta e Riciclo (COBAT) (2014) Personal communication with a study and research division managerGoogle Scholar
- Creazza A, Dallari F (2007) La gestione dei pallet nei moderni sistemi distributivi. Luic Papers n. 203, Serie Tecnologica 11Google Scholar
- 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
- 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
- Ecoinvent centre (2014) Ecoinvent Version 3.1 (2014) Database. http://www.ecoinvent.org/. Accessed January 2015
- 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
- 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
- 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. http://www.epbaeurope.net/documents/EPBASustainabilityreport2010_final.pdf
- 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. http://www.epbaeurope.net/documents/Reportontheportablebatterycollectionrates-UpdateDec-14-fullversion.pdf
- 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. http://www.epbaeurope.net/090607_2006_Oct.pdf
- Gestore Servizi Energetici (GSE) (2014) Rapporto Statistico 2013 - Solare fotovoltaico. http://www.gse.it/it/Dati%20e %20Bilanci/GSE_Documenti/osservatorio %20statistico/Il %20Solare %20fotovoltaico %202013.pdf
- Gozzetti R (2014a) I Paesi che hanno prodotto più zinco nel mondo. http://www.metallirari.com/i-paesi-che-hanno-prodotto-piu-zinco-nel-mondo/. Accessed on November 2014
- Gozzetti R (2014b) I 10 Paesi che producono più cobalto nel mondo. http://www.metallirari.com/i-10-paesi-che-producono-piu-cobalto-nel-mondo/. Accessed on November 2014
- Haxel GB, Hedrick JB, Orris GJ (2002) Rare Earth Elements - Critical Resources for High Technology. U.S. Geological Survey. http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2002/fs087-02/fs087-02.pdf
- 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
- 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
- ISO (2006a) ISO 14040: Environmental management - Life cycle assessment - Principles and frameworkGoogle Scholar
- ISO (2006b) ISO 14044: Environmental management - Life cycle assessment - Requirements and guidelinesGoogle Scholar
- Kuck PH (2012) Mineral Commodity Summaries 2012 - Nickel. U.S. Geological Survey. http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/nickel/mcs-2012-nicke.pdf
- Linden D, Reddy TB (2002) Handbook of batteries - third edition. McGraw-Hill Handbooks, Electronics Book SeriesGoogle Scholar
- 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
- Rigamonti L, Grosso M (2009) Riciclo dei rifiuti. Dario Flaccovio Editore, Palermo (IT)Google Scholar
- Società Italiana Ambiente Ecologia s.r.l. (SIAE) (2014). Personal communication with a research and development managerGoogle Scholar
- 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. http://www.ipd.anl.gov/anlpubs/2010/11/68455.pdf
- The Shift Project Data Portal - Datasets on Electricity statistics. http://www.tsp-data-portal.org/all-datasets?field_themes_tid=2. Accessed on November 2014
- U.S. International Trade Commission (2003) Electrolytic Manganese Dioxide from Australia, China, Greece, Ireland, Japan and South Africa. WashingtonGoogle Scholar
- 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. http://www.leidenuniv.nl/cml/ssp/projects/lca2/report_abiotic_depletion_web.pdf
- World Steel Association (2014) Steel Statistical Yearbook, 2014. Worldsteel Committee on Economic Studies, Brussels. https://www.worldsteel.org/statistics/statistics-archive/yearbook-archive.html