By SUSIE BURRAGE President, the British Metals Recycling Association
LITHIUM-ION batteries are deadly ticking time bombs, and we are witnessing more and more cases across the UK where they are going off with disastrous consequences.
The Government needs to take urgent action to stop blazes caused by discarded goods containing lithium-ion batteries because there is an epidemic of fires breaking out at recycling centres around the country.
We need the Government to commit to an awareness campaign to educate people across the UK about the dangers these batteries can pose and how to dispose of them safely.
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are used to supply power to many kinds of devices including mobile and cordless phones, laptops, scooters, e-cigarettes, smoke alarms, toys, power tools and even cars.
Just to illustrate the scale of the problem, figures from a survey of 58 local authorities found that batteries had caused 600 fires in bin lorries and at recycling centres in the past year, causing damage estimated at £474 million.
The BMRA has a designated fire prevention subcommittee, and we are working with other industry stakeholders to look at how we can handle this waste, but at the end of day it’s going to involve educating the public about the dangers.
As a group, we understand that we can only do so much (such as posters at sites and various campaigns highlighting issues) on limited budgets.
Identification and segregation of items containing lithium-ion batteries from other waste is essential to ensure waste and metal recycling facilities remain safe, so that might involve a national battery recycling scheme.
The incorrect disposal of lithium-ion batteries is one of the biggest health and safety threats that has ever faced the waste and metal recycling industries.
Action is needed because of the exponential growth of this problem, and we all want to avoid seeing significant injuries and even deaths caused by battery fires.
The danger comes when lithium-ion batteries are punctured, damaged, or exposed to high temperatures or moisture – they are liable to spontaneously combust and set fire to any flammable wastes around them.
The growing use of batteries in everyday products, such as e-scooters, means that it is a growing problem but there is no national scheme to ensure batteries are disposed of safely.
Currently, householders’ only option is to take redundant waste electrical and electronic equipment to their local recycling centre for correct disposal and ensure they put their items in the correct container.
Lithium-ion batteries need to be disposed of separately, not co-mingled with any other waste products, so the introduction of a dedicated national kerbside collection scheme may be a solution to the problem.
The bonus for doing this will be a reduction in the risk of fires and it will allow the recovery of valuable natural resources – lithium in this case – so it is a win-win if everyone recycles responsibly.
Photo caption: Close up of old used lithium polymer batteries of mobile phones preparation for recycling