Wednesday, November 19, 2008

8 Ways to Green Your Battery Use

This story is part of Earth911’s “Green Eight” series, where we showcase eight ways to green your life in various areas.

You may not realize how often you use batteries until you have to operate for a few hours without electricity. Batteries are great at keeping a charge in our mobile devices, but the components that help generate these charges wreak havoc in landfills.

You can use Earth911 to find out where to recycle batteries. Here’s eight ways to optimize your battery use so you’ll create less waste in the first place:

1. Replace One at a Time

So your device stopped working, and it takes four AA batteries. Looks like you’ve got to buy four new batteries and dispose of four as well. Actually, only one of the batteries may be dead. If you invest in a battery-tester, you can find out which batteries have no charge left and only replace those. Some batteries even come with a tester on the cell itself.

2. Embrace Heavy Metal

In most circumstances, searching for a product with less hazardous materials is more eco-friendly. In the case of batteries, hazardous ingredients increase your chances of finding recycling options. Consider:

  • Car batteries contain lead and sulfuric acid and have a recycling rate around 90 percent.
  • Single-use dry cell batteries have been gutted of mercury in recent years, and it’s now much more difficult to find locations that recycle them than rechargeables (which contain cadmium).

If your batteries have elements like lead, mercury or lithium, there will be more value to a recycler that can reprocess these metals. Just make sure they are kept out of the reach of children and pets in the meantime.

3. Laptops Aren’t for Laps

You already know that batteries and heat do not get along together. Well, your computer generates a fair amount of heat internally, which is why your notebook computer comes with a fan. Using your laptop on a soft surface (such as your lap) restricts air flow and actually heats up your battery. You can also invest in a cooling pad if you want to use a notebook on soft surfaces.

4. Keep Your Batteries Cool

You may have heard that putting batteries in the fridge or freezer will make them last longer. While this may be the case, you’ll have to let the batteries thaw before using them to avoid condensation in your devices. Regardless, you should avoid storing batteries in hot places, because they could leak fluid.

5. Wait for Good Reception

“Can you hear me now?” That’s good for more than just your phone manners. When your cell phone has low reception, it uses more battery power to search for stronger signals. Waiting for better reception will allow your cell phone battery to last longer.

6. Insulate Your Car Battery

Think about it: your car experiences more temperature fluctuations than anything else in your life. It deals with hot and cold driving weather, gets heated up and cooled down on every trip and ends up stored in a poorly-insulated garage for the night (if it’s lucky).

You can find insulation blankets to allow car batteries to adjust better to all kinds of temperatures. The next time you’re under the hood, check to see if your battery is insulated or have a qualified professional check for you.

7. Crank Up Your Batteries

The days of hand cranks to generate power went out with draft cards and freedom marches. Or did they? You can actually find hand-cranks to charge up all sorts of devices, such as cell phones and mp3 players. You’ll also get a little exercise. Another option is charging your gadgets with solar power. These are both forms of renewable energy so you won’t have to use non-renewable electricity to power your batteries.

8. Opt for Plugging In

Many devices will come equipped with battery compartments and an A/C power adapter, including some alarm clocks and lamps. You may be saving energy by working off batteries, but you’re also producing waste when the batteries die. Don’t forget you have to spend energy to recharge batteries as well. If you have the option, plugging in will use less resources.