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J&B Recycling Knowledge

The Importance of Recycling Batteries

There have been numerous incidents of batteries being disposed of incorrectly, causing fires in waste collection vehicles and facilities.

Rechargeable batteries are a great technology, so they are becoming much more predominant in our lives, especially the lithium-ion type. However, they can be dangerous if they are discarded in everyday recycling or general waste.

There are many reports of serious fires that have transpired due to the incorrect disposal of batteries, which can be seen at the end of this article. This isn’t just an issue in the UK, but all over the world.

Internet searches reveal records of significant fire incidents within the last 3 years attributed to discarded batteries across the UK in Cornwall, Carmarthenshire, Lincolnshire x 2, Gateshead x 4, South Tyneside, Cheshire, Pendle, Teesside, North Wales, Brighton and Scarborough plus Tulsa (USA) , Baltimore (US), California (USA) and Queensland (AUS)

Li-ion batteries are more recently common in any household electrical and electronic items such as mobile phones. The batteries powering such items can cause a significant fire risk when they are mixed with recycling waste streams. This risk applies whether the batteries are loose or remain inside the electrical item. If the battery is damaged, chemically react or exposed to sparks or high temperatures during waste processing systems, it can cause a fire to start and spread to the waste around it. This can occur inside containers at HWRCs, inside refuse collection wagons and at the waste processing facilities.

This can ultimately result in the disruption of waste services, millions of pounds worth of damage, the ruin of businesses, extra strain on Fire and Emergency Services, environmental damage and most importantly, lives are put at risk.

In the UK, the Waste Industry and Local Authorities are expected to prevent this, despite the UK Waste Legislation’s over riding policy principle of the polluter pays. However, in the instance of a fire caused by the incorrect disposal of batteries, it is not the case.

Where is the lead by Defra, the HSE or the EA and the like? It should not cost the life of a waste worker for this issue to be acted on. A properly funded national campaign will highlight the correct disposal of batteries and the risks of not doing so. The government makes big revenues from Landfill Tax or could be able to introduce a levy through compliance schemes on the manufactures of batteries or products that use them to pay for this.

Here at J&B we have invested significantly in preventing waste fires by improved controls and infrastructure at our sites. We aren’t alone in that of course but it’s about time focus was shifted to divert batteries and WEEE products from the mixed recycling and general waste collections in the first place. An article by Euonmia sums this up “If we don’t start to take action now, the increased use of Li-ion batteries, will only increase the cost and impact of Li-ion battery waste fires in the years to come.

Linked below are some examples of the damage extent that can be caused by the improper waste management of batteries.

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