Which dollar store batteries stand up to the big name brands and which should you avoid?

A CBC Marlet test disposable double-A batteries found that while major brands keep their marketing promise to be long-lasting, batteries purchased from two major dollar stores performed surprisingly well and offered good value for money-conscious shoppers. costs.

But the test also revealed that not all dollar store batteries are created equally and some battery types didn’t perform well, with experts warning they should be avoided despite their low cost.

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Marlet, in collaboration with researchers at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Ontario, tested 240 double-A disposable batteries from six brands. The brands tested were Energizer, Duracell, Noma from Canadian Tire, Great Value from Walmart, E-Circuit from Dollar Tree, and Panasonic batteries from Dollarama and Dollar Tree.

In tests, which simulated different levels of power consumption, Energizer and Duracell lasted the longest. But it’s Alkaline E-Circuit, a brand imported and sold by Dollar Tree, that has stood the test of the more well-known brands, lasting almost as long and costing only $1.25 for a four-pack.

The researchers used the different emptying scenarios – low, medium and high – to simulate real-world uses. They said the low-level drain is similar to continuous use of a computer mouse or TV remote. Medium drain is similar to continuous use of a remote control toy or game controller, while high drain is like a high powered flashlight.

Alkaline batteries purchased from Dollarama and Dollar Tree performed well in tests conducted for Marketplace. (Steven D’Souza/CBC)

Ontario Tech Assistant Professor of Engineering Xianke Lin, who supervised the test, noted that the results, while surprising, should not be used as an approximation of all battery performance, as the test cannot not perfectly simulate how batteries are used in real life.

Yet the value of electronic circuitry comes into focus when comparing price per battery and capacity. Based on what Marlet paid, the average price per E-Circuit alkaline battery was only 31 cents.

“Usually people think it’s cheap and it shouldn’t be the best value, but [E-Circuit alkaline] turns out to be the best capability per dollar spent,” said Lin, of Ontario Tech’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

E-Circuit’s ultra alkaline battery worked even longer overall, but at a higher price.

Panasonic Alkaline Plus batteries purchased from Dollarama and Dollar Tree also performed well in all three simulated drain tests.

Assistant Professor Xianke Lin of Ontario Tech University holds two of the cells tested. (Steven D’Souza/CBC)

Batteries to avoid

While dollar store alkaline batteries offered surprises, another type sold at those stores, carbon-zinc (or zinc-carbon) did not fare well in testing.

These double-A carbon-zinc batteries are recommended for low-drain devices and are a common feature in dollar stores. In a test simulating continuous use of low-drain devices, E-Circuit and Panasonic carbon-zinc batteries lasted six hours and 55 minutes and seven hours and 45 minutes, respectively, while alkalines from other brands all lasted more than 20 hours. .

Although Panasonic’s E-Circuit and Carbon Zinc are called “Super Heavy Duty”, they were anything but, according to experts.

“It’s incredibly confusing,” according to Dan Steinart, an associate professor of engineering at Columbia University who studies the capacity and energy efficiency of disposable batteries.

“The lingo around that term dates back to the 70s and it worked. I remember my grandfather saying, ‘You know, make sure you buy the super tough as opposed to the lightweight wimpy’, isn’t it? right? It has dramatically affected an entire generation of battery consumers.”

There is no reason to sell a zinc-carbon system in 2022.-Dan Steinart, Columbia University

Also known as dry cell batteries, “super tough” carbon-zinc batteries are based on obsolete technology from the 19th centuryand generally marketed as a cost-effective option for use in low-power devices such as TV remotes or wall clocks.

Steinart, who performed similar tests to Marletit’s, said, “I have not found any use cases where zinc-carbon outperforms alkaline batteries in any way…. There is no reason to sell a zinc-carbon system in 2022.”

Although batteries are only recommended for certain devices that don’t require a lot of power, many Canadians said Marlet they don’t notice these suggestions on the batteries.

Given their likely use in other devices, the researchers also tested the carbon-zinc batteries in the simulated high-drain tests.

Jonathan Couture, a researcher at Ontario Tech University, with a Panasonic double-A carbon-zinc battery that malfunctioned in testing. The company recommends them for low-power devices. (Steven D’Souza/CBC)

The Panasonic and E-Circuit carbon-zinc batteries lasted just under seven minutes under high-drain conditions, while all alkaline batteries lasted around an hour.

“Zinc-carbon cells are pretty much obsolete and should no longer be made or sold,” Steinart said.

Experts said the key is to look for alkaline batteries at dollar stores and avoid the cheaper carbon-zinc batteries.

panasonic said Marlet its carbon-zinc batteries can last up to a year in low-drain devices and that it is working with stores to educate consumers on their use.

“Carbon-zinc batteries are an established technology and when used correctly in recommended devices, they offer excellent performance and great value,” Panasonic said in a statement, and said consumers should be aware that different batteries are better suited to certain devices.

Dollar Tree, the importer of E-Circuit batteries, did not respond to questions about carbon-zinc batteries, but acknowledged that they were sold and that their products generally met the low-cost needs of its customers.

Dollarama, which together with Dollar Tree offers Panasonic carbon-zinc batteries, says it offers “a selection of Panasonic carbon-zinc and alkaline battery pack options to our customers, giving them access to a range of options in our low fixed prices, depending on their need.”

Consumers help pay to recycle waste batteries – where do they go?

Double-A batteries are among the most commonly used — and discarded — in Canadian households. According to Call2Recycle, the non-profit organization that manages this type of waste, Canadians recycled 4.1 million kilograms of batteries in 2020.

Consumers pay eco-fees — sometimes called environmental handling fees (EGFs) — for batteries purchased in Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia, Quebec and Saskatchewan. Although an environmental fee to cover the cost of electronic waste is applied to electronic devices and televisions purchased in most Canadian provinces, not all the provinces have environmental taxes on batteries More precisely.

In Ontario, battery manufacturers and retailers are now responsible for recycling their used batteries, and this consumer charge can be added at checkout so businesses can cover their own recycling costs.

Marlet paid about five cents per battery for Ontario green fees and $2.40 for a 48-cell pack.

Most household batteries in Ontario ended up at Ontario’s largest battery recycling plant, Raw Materials Company (RMC), in Welland, Ontario.

However, Marlet discovered that used batteries collected for disposal in Ontario are no longer being sent there.

Joe Zenobio, president of Call2Recycle, Canada’s largest battery collector and recycler, wrote that the group has terminated certain agreements for non-compliance “related to the collection of eligible batteries” in Ontario.

RMC said Marlet it has never received a regulatory violation notice in its 35 years of business and is challenging Call2Recycle’s decision.

The Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA), the regulator of Ontario’s circular economy laws, confirmed in an email that Call2Recycle had informed the agency of its intention to send batteries to Michigan. . Call2Recycle says Marlet he works with recycling companies in Michigan, as well as Quebec, but wouldn’t say how many batteries go where or when.

Consumers are not obliged to pay environmental taxes

Jo-Anne St. Godard, director of the Circular Innovation Council, formerly the Recycling Council of Ontario and now a national advocacy group, said sending used batteries out of the country for recycling isn’t ideal. Although it is difficult to measure transport emissions against the benefits of recycling, she would prefer to see support for both local recycling solutions and the local economy.

Godard said Ontario’s green fee is not a tax and consumers don’t have to pay it.

“I think [consumers] have to ask questions at the point of sale when they see these fees being applied and they certainly have to ask questions to the government about where that money is going, how is that money being managed,” she said.

Phillip Robinson, press secretary to provincial environment minister David Piccini, said in an email response: “The battery regulation does not include a verification requirement related to visible charges, but if a consumer believes that the fees charged to it are too high, the Consumer Protection Act protects consumers from unfair practices, including protecting consumers from false, misleading or deceptive communications regarding fees.”

The Department of Government and Consumer Services said in an email that it is up to each business to decide whether to charge environmental fees on batteries or electronic devices and how much to charge to recoup their environmental costs. recycling, and a company cannot distort the purpose. of a fee.

Consumers who believe the purpose of the fee is misrepresented should report it to the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services at 416-326-8800 or toll-free at 1-800-889-9768, while consumers who have concerns about actions taken by a company to recycle batteries should contact the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA) at 416-226-5113 or [email protected]

Regardless of what happens behind the scenes in the industry, St. Godard said consumers should continue to deposit waste batteries at collection depots, but should consider lobbying the government for answers on destination of waste and environmental costs.

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