by Rasheeda Russell

The waste sector is having to deal with an increase in the number and frequency of vehicle and premises fires directly attributable to lithium batteries. These have rapidly increased in popularity as they hold a larger electrical charge than other batteries of an equivalent size. They are found in smaller appliances such as laptops, electric toothbrushes and shavers, as well as being retailed in their own right as a premium product.

However, these batteries can discharge uncontrollably if they become wet, damaged or are short-circuited. This presents an immediate and very real risk of fire, especially when they are discarded.

It is important that everyone involved in their collection and transport works to minimise these fire risks and avoid serious property damage and fatalities, which mercifully have been avoided so far.

Of course, no batteries should be disposed of in general waste.

Ideally lithium cells should be segregated, stored and transported separately from other types, but this is often impracticable.

When collecting mixed batteries prior to collection for recycling, some simple housekeeping steps can be taken.

Any non-standard or irregularly shaped battery packs and cells which have already removed from items, especially laptops, hand-held devices and mobile phones, are highly likely to contain lithium:

  • Any exposed terminals should be taped over with insulating tape.
  • Any trailing wires from the terminals should be taped to the cell, with the exposed wire cores taped over to prevent short-circuiting.

An entire load should be regarded as hazardous waste due to the potential presence of the lithium cells.

Where ERP arranges batteries collections from any site, we ensure that only collectors able to meet all the legal requirements act for us. The loads must be collected and transported in compliance with internationally agreed rules on the movement of dangerous goods, currently ADR 2019. The key requirements are:

  • That the container used is of an approved type
  • The batteries are packed in a manner to minimise movement within the container during transit
  • They are moved in limited volumes by trained staff in approved vehicles

Where a load is stored in a non-compliant way and this cannot be immediately rectified, it cannot be legally transported.

By taking a little time to identify lithium batteries and taking these simple steps the clients from whom we collect can make a significant difference in keeping the fire risk to an absolute minimum.

Useful links:

Hazardous waste guidance:

https://www.gov.uk/dispose-hazardous-waste/producers-and-holders

Carriage of Dangerous goods:

https://www.hse.gov.uk/cdg/manual/regenvirnment.htm

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/transporting-dangerous-goods