Thanks to Trillian's websurfing, I just found out about USB Cells, batteries designed to be recharged via a computer's USB ports. Right now, only AAs are available, but other sizes and types (like phone batteries) are in the works. Two AAs run about $19 US (priced in pounds, so the exact amount will vary), which is a bit pricey--but you don't need a separate charger, so you save some expenses there.
I have to admit that our use of rechargeable batteries has not been consistent for a while. We tend to find that we have either the recharger or the batteries, but rarely can locate both at the same time. (Whisper: And there is a chance we just don't have them anymore--I don't remember seeing them since we moved to Canada. A possible moving-related black hole.) On the other hand, switching back to rechargeable batteries has been on my mind.
One concern I have with the USB Cells, however, is just how practical I would find them. In particular, I wonder about being able to keep them charged. The graphic at their website shows them being plugged into side-by-side ports on a laptop. My ports are on top of each other, so that would limit me to charging one battery at a time. If I used USB extension cables (I have one already, but would need a second one for this), I could charge two, but that would mean a couple of cords dangling from my computer. And then there's the fact that, as things stand now, I can never remember to plug my Shuffle in whenever I have my computer on, so what chance would I stand of actually getting batteries charged when I needed them? My final concern is about the amount of electricity the USB port draws when recharging the batteries--I suspect I could figure some of that out if I really wanted to, but at this point all I have confirmed is that, yes in fact, the port would be drawing extra electricity.
Concerning batteries in general, I've decided to look at the issue using that most basic of environmental saws: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Reduce: The best option is to reduce reliance on batteries to begin with. The first things that come to mind are the myriad noise-making toys my son has. While they don't go through batteries quickly, the sheer number of toys that require batteries means a good number go towards this. One upside of his sensory issues is that he doesn't like too much noise, so he doesn't use the noise function of these toys as much as he might. We have been trying to avoid such toys as much as possible and do not always replace the batteries if there is some entertainment value to be had from such toys even without the literal bells and whistles. When Scooter received a "Deluxe" Thomas Roundhouse for his birthday, the box informed us that it made a noise when trains ran over certain spots in the sheds. Trillian and I both groaned, more for the sake of our ears than the environment when we thought that this was a toy that would require batteries and not work without. But after I put it together, I made an important discovery--the doors still opened and everything worked just fine without the batteries, there just weren't any additional sounds. So no batteries ever went in and Scooter doesn't even realize it could do more.
Reuse: This is where the rechargeables come into play, and I need to do more concrete planning about how to move from recycling to reusing for those battery-run items that are must-haves. Of course, the first item that pops into my mind? I'm embarrassed to admit that would be our remotes (though we got rid of one since our current DVD player is really our PS2, which is so old it doesn't work with an infrared remote and we actually have to get up to use the controls). But toys that have been allowed to keep their batteries fall into this category.
Recycle: I'm good at this one, and it has become much easier to do this. There is a recycling point in my university library, so I tend to collect batteries in my bag and drop them off whenever I remember. IKEA also accepts both batteries and compact fluorescent light bulbs for recycling. And many municipalities will accept them either as part of special hazardous waste pick-ups or at specific hazardous waste centers. As with CFLs, recycling batteries means that the most hazardous parts will be recaptured and prevented from entering our soil and groundwater. The other parts are still left over, but at least the worst of them is contained.
Anybody have other suggestions? Know about technologies that may improve this situation soon?