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earthCell batteries promise near-zero waste and better value

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November 8, 2011

earthCell batteries are designed to be used like disposables, except that users send them ...

earthCell batteries are designed to be used like disposables, except that users send them away for recharging or recycling when they're used up

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If you really want to minimize the amount of toxins that you put into the environment, use rechargeable batteries. Disposable and rechargeable batteries can contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, and with an estimated 3 billion batteries a year being discarded in the U.S. alone, the sometimes small amounts in each battery can really add up. Using rechargeables greatly reduces the number of batteries entering landfills, but many people don't bother buying them, or the chargers that they require. That's where earthCell batteries come in. They can be used like disposables, except that users send them away for for recharging or recycling when they're dead.

earthCells are low self-discharge nickel metal hydride (LSD NiMH) batteries, which among other things are claimed to have a much longer shelf life than regular NiMH batteries, and longer run times than alkalines. When a customer's earthCells do expire, they put them in a prepaid mailer. Once that mailer is full, the customer sends it off to the company.

Staff at earthCell will test each used battery that arrives. If it's up to snuff, it will be "revitalized," then resold - each battery can reportedly be recharged hundreds of times. If the battery is just too used up, it will be dismantled, so that its materials can be used to create new batteries.

"Our batteries are essentially rechargeable batteries," earthCell founder Jason Rugolo told us. "They can be recharged at home in LSD NiMH chargers. Our understanding is that the vast majority of people out there don't want to manage their battery stock, perhaps because batteries are an insignificant part of peoples' lives."

earthCell batteries are designed to be used like disposables, except that users send them ...

Rugolo is presently in the process of raising funds for his business, on Kickstarter. A pledge of US$13 will get you four AA and four AAA earthCell batteries, along with a mailer. Higher amounts will get you more, with pledges of $45 or over paying off in 10 AA's and ten AAA's.

Projected retail prices for the batteries haven't been announced yet, although Jason has stated that they will be a much better value than disposables. So far, earthCells will only be available within the U.S.

The pitch video below includes some more details.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
18 Comments

yeah uhmm, good luck with that one!

Denis Klanac
8th November, 2011 @ 10:25 pm PST

Doesn't all the fuel used in shipping the batteries to and fro wipe out the "green" benefits?

Gadgeteer
9th November, 2011 @ 05:06 am PST

So packing the batteries away for mail, remembering to mail them, so they can be shipped around the country for someone else to recharge them; then wait for someone recharge them and to do the same process and wait for them to arrive.

Might be useful for someone who doesn't have electricty or access to the sun for a solar charger...

The Flying Crowbar
9th November, 2011 @ 05:14 am PST

So... the target market is people who are too lazy or lack the time to slap their batteries in a charger. But those same people will be motivated and find the time to keep the battery mailer around until the batteries die, then seal them up in the mailer and shlep them to the mailbox. Sorry, I don't think so.

Shishkabugs
9th November, 2011 @ 08:42 am PST

I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around this. I agree that all of the batteries in the landfill is really bad for the environment. However, the concept to mail dead batteries away to be recharged doesn't make sence to me. The extra cost in shipping, handling and vehicle fuel would, to me, outweigh the need for this method. As consumers we do not have the paitince to wait for fully charged batteries. Also, the time used to track down two AA batteries that got lost in the mail would be a waste of my time to bother with. How about a biodegradable battery or market solar recharge kit. But this.....

Dcow3764
9th November, 2011 @ 08:51 am PST

Hi Guys. I hope you see the upside of what we're trying to do here. Many people have opted to recharge their own batteries, and that's great. But the vast majority of the market doesn't after 30 years of opportunity to do so, which puts us in the position we are today with 3 billion batteries per year ending up in landfills.

Our batteries are cost-competitive with alkalines, including the prepaid mailer to recycle them. That's a huge win for customers who don't recharge their own batteries, and an even bigger win for the fight to eliminate battery waste.

As for the environmental costs of shipping, it's an important point. What is relevant is the marginal environmental cost per weight of USPS shipping, since the postal employee is coming to your house anyways. This happens to be very small.

That cost has to be compared with the way you buy batteries. For example, hopping in your Prius to grab 4 AAs at the last minute has a vastly larger footprint. Grabbing some AAs at the store with the rest of your groceries in your Humvee has a larger footprint. If you walk to the corner store, however, then the mail delivery would have a somewhat larger footprint.

Ultimately, given the choice between making the mailman's bag a bit heavier, or landfilling billions of batteries every year, I'd make the bag heavier every time.

Sincerely,

Jason Rugolo

earthCell founder

Jason Rugolo
9th November, 2011 @ 09:50 am PST

I am pretty sure the idea is similar to the blue rhino propane tanks (except with shipping). You buy re-charged batteries (from a yet to be named source) and mail your dead ones off. The dead ones will be recharged then sent to a distributor (where we will buy them). Basically we are buying used batteries at a premium in order to ensure we are being greener than people who just throw away their batteries. I am pretty sure the business model sucks but I have seen people do significantly more environmental harm in trying to be green so maybe this will fly with the people who fall for the green term without looking to see if it is bunk or not.

Kim Smed
9th November, 2011 @ 12:07 pm PST

A prepaid mailer for safe disposal of truly dead batteries would be welcome.

It says at the end of the article that these cells can also be charged at home as usual for rechargeable batteries.

Wombat56
9th November, 2011 @ 01:37 pm PST

Ha! Reading all the above comments, there is nothing I can do but completely agree with *ALL* of them! LOL! Who would do this? I know I wouldn't! In fact, the only thing keeping me from throwing away rechargeables instead of tossing them when they are spent is that they cost more than disposables! If they were the same price as disposables, I'ld toss them as well and get fresh batteries!

Ed
9th November, 2011 @ 02:23 pm PST

I also am doubtful that this business idea will work. A person is either conscientious about their use of batteries or they are not. If you only buy disposable batteries (which I do not recommend) then you need to keep a pail for the dead ones and make sure they go to hazmat instead of getting buried with rest of garbage. I personally buy rechargables and have in place a battery recharge/maintenance routine to fill our needs. If you are conscientious about this problem, you need to invest the small amount of time it takes to do it. Using rechargeables then mailing them off does not take less time. It just adds to the complexity and uses even more resources!

Will, the tink
9th November, 2011 @ 02:27 pm PST

"Green" batteries, in a box made of *wood*? Laughing my arse off.

Gregg Eshelman
9th November, 2011 @ 02:39 pm PST

Hmmmm RECHARGABLE batteries are not cheap, so I don't know of anyone who would dump them instead of recharge them.

But a circular recycle loop is a good thing......

I'd support that - especially this system.

Except I live in Australia - and it's not here yet.

Mr Stiffy
9th November, 2011 @ 04:43 pm PST

Can humans get any lazier? Oh, yes. Much.

johnnydfred
9th November, 2011 @ 05:11 pm PST

The problem really with NiMH is voltage. 1.2 per cell is a real issue with todays electronic items being so stable voltage dependent. When they come out with a 1.5 nominal voltage rechargeable cell I will buy it.

Michael Meisman
10th November, 2011 @ 05:22 am PST

@Gregg Eshelman: Are you aware that plastic never decays, and must be refined from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource? By contrast, wood will quickly rot, and grows as trees, a very renewable resource.

In this case, wood is much greener than the alternative packaging choice.

I can see a "best of both worlds" scenario with these - buy them, but recharge them yourself, then send them off with the voucher when they start to lose their charge. That way, you don't yourself have to bother with proper disposal of the batteries, but they still get properly disposed rather than thrown in a landfill.

Joel Detrow
11th November, 2011 @ 12:16 am PST

This has both ethnic and social implications. Some groups consider it a flaw in personality to be able to "do things". It implies that dedication to academics or business was not occupying you properly. Other groups consider it lowly to be concerned about costs. Imagine a high end pimp rushing off to recharge a battery or a crack dealer bothering with battery costs.

In order to turn the world around we almost have to ruin some social sub groups.

Jim Sadler
21st November, 2011 @ 09:51 am PST

I think reconditioning our way of thinking about tossing used batteries is long overdue. If these truly are better than current ones out there, it's worth a go at it. If it's a success the company can have regional return centers. I'm buying.

dsiple
29th December, 2011 @ 12:51 pm PST

I think the idea will work well if the person understands and implements the concept. Buy the batteries and use them at home, recharge them at home multiple times until they begin to lose the ability to recharge well, then ship them off for new ones. Something is wrong if your too lazy to pop the batteries out of your remote and walk over to the charger compared to hopping in your car to go get new ones. If they really wanted to eliminate travel to get new batteries they could have the consumer set up an account and when used batteries come in new ones are shipped and the account is charged. Like someone stated earlier the infrastructure of the mail system is already in place and it doesn't cost much money wise or green wise to ship something to you if your already receiving mail.

Jon Brown
1st August, 2012 @ 12:19 pm PDT
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