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Comeback batteries

Truth or hype?

Smart shopper


Comeback batteries

Rechargeables offer a handy and economical edge

If you frequently use a digital camera, flashlight, or gaming device, the cost of single-use batteries can add up. Knowing that the lead, nickel, cadmium, and other heavy metals in batteries can leach from landfills into groundwater, you may feel you should recycle your used batteries–yet have no idea how to conveniently do that.

Rechargeable batteries can save you money, help protect the environment, and ensure that you can calmly pop fresh batteries into your TV remote if it conks out in the middle of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

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Truth or hype?

Battery myth and fact

Ignore marketing terms such as “heavy duty, super heavy duty, high capacity, quick charger, rapid charger, ultra, or long life,” which bear little or no relation to performance.

Power (mAh) ratings can help in comparing batteries of the same type being considered for the same use. They are useless, however, when comparing different types of batteries or batteries powering different types of devices.

Freezing or refrigerating batteries doesn’t prolong usability, unless the alternative is storing them in extreme heat.

Here’s one bit of folklore that holds true: overcharging shortens a battery’s life, so unplug the charger at the right time.

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Smart shopper

What to look for in rechargeable choices

Batteries produce electricity through electrochemical reactions. Rechargeable batteries have a chemical makeup that makes these reactions reversible.

There are three main types of rechargeable batteries:

  • nickel-cadmium (NiCD), the oldest type;
  • nickel-metal hydride (NiMH), developed about the same time as digital cameras; and
  • a type of NiMH that holds its charge better, called low self-discharge (LSD) NiMH.

Top-quality LSD NiMH batteries come fully charged and can hold their charge for months. They’re suitable for both low-drain devices like flashlights and remote controls, and high-drain devices such as digital cameras, where they will last up to four times as long as single-use alkaline batteries.

Tips posted online by the California Integrated Waste Management board advise:

Buy a battery charger that:

  • charges NiMH batteries or both NiMH and NiCD;
  • has a reconditioning cycle;
  • charges each battery individually;
  • automatically switches from recondition mode to recharge mode.

Buy NiMH or LSD NiMH batteries of the highest capacity you can find. (Measurement will be in mAh, milliamperes per hour, a standard unit of electrical storage capacity.) Buy LSD NiMH rechargeable batteries in the AA or AAA sizes. Settle for ordinary high-capacity rechargeables when shopping for C, D, or 9-volt batteries. LSD rechargeables in those sizes can be hard to find.

Frequently send NiMH (including the LSD type) and NiCD batteries through a reconditioning cycle, which discharges the battery completely. It doesn’t hurt batteries to recondition them every time you charge them.

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