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Rechargeable battery business gets its start through PSU
Author: Sara Hottman
Posted: January 27, 2014

Important message from Bettery: We are sad to announce that Bettery is suspending business operations and removed all kiosks the week of Jan. 20-25.  Bettery continues to believe that reusable batteries are a responsible and sustainable alternative to single-use batteries, and we want to support customers who purchased Bettery batteries.

Bettery will refund your deposit on each 4-pack you previously purchased.  Simply send your email receipt to CustomerCare@BetteryInc.com  or call 1-800-758-1339.

The Bettery, Inc. “swap station” in Smith Memorial Student Union is to rechargeable batteries what Redbox is to movies: A kiosk essentially rents out rechargeable batteries, which customers return when they’re spent in exchange for charged ones.

Bettery, a Portland State Business Accelerator company, keeps its prices low through the rental system, eliminates a large amount of waste that goes into manufacturing and packaging batteries, and improves access to rechargeable batteries. The start-up rolled out its swap stations — which also take regular alkaline batteries for recycling — last spring while working with PSU students on two capstone projects to improve the product. Now the company is looking to expand its reach on campus with Bettery Business accounts for departments and through partnerships with student housing and sustainability.

Charlie Kawasaki, founder and CEO of Bettery, hopes to make battery recycling as convenient and inexpensive as exchanging movies at a Redbox kiosk, encouraging rechargeable battery use and decreasing environmentally harmful battery waste.

“There’s not many widespread, easy battery recycling options,” Kawasaki says. And rechargeable batteries aren’t widely used. In 2011, Metro regional government’s hazardous waste recycling took in alkaline batteries at a rate of 9 to 1 compared to rechargeable batteries.

Bettery swap stations first appeared at PSU’s Smith Memorial Student Union and in Portland Whole Foods stores in April 2013, and since then Bettery has expanded to some Safeway stores in Washington. Eleven stations are now in operation. Already they’ve recycled around 75,000 batteries.

Kawasaki’s swap stations accept alkaline batteries for recycling — they’re melted down at a steel foundry and used for materials like rebar — and sells rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. The first time at a Bettery station, a four-pack of rechargeable batteries costs $2.50 plus an extra $5 deposit. After that, spent batteries exchanged for fully charged ones costs $2.50 per four-pack. The typical four-pack of AA alkaline batteries costs $10, and rechargeable cost $12.50. The Bettery system not only eliminates the need for a battery charger, it also cuts waste by packaging its batteries in reusable plastic containers. The company’s batteries can be recharged up to 500 times.

“There’s nothing to throw away in our system,” Kawasaki says. 

Two PSU capstone projects from January to June last year helped advance the system after Kawasaki, a serial tech entrepreneur, spent two years on planning and development. Students in an engineering capstone developed new technology, from circuit boards to software, for the next generation of swap stations. An MBA capstone did market research and designed an intern program for the business. 

Through the capstone projects, “As a small start-up we have access to motivated students to move forward progress in a way we wouldn’t have resources to do otherwise,” Kawasaki says.

As the company continues to grow, Bettery is targeting corporate battery use with Bettery Business, in which organizations set up corporate accounts for employees to exchange office batteries used for things such as clocks and remote controls. PSU’s Campus Rec is among the first Bettery Business accounts.