E-Waste : WEEE Forum report addresses lithium battery fires

call2recycling recycling waste batteries

A new report outlines best practice rules minimising fire risks related to lithium batteries as well as e-waste containing lithium batteries.

Compiled by the WEEE Forum, EuRIC, EUCOBAT, EERA, MWE and the WEEELABEX Organisation, it covers all aspects of the lithium battery lifecycle and involves actors across the entire value chain.

In recent years, lithium-ion batteries have gained popularity on account of their energy density, longevity as well as their light-weight design. Electrical appliances that make use of them range from smartphones, laptops and cameras to electric cars and bicycles.

The demand for lithium batteries is set to rise and is estimated to reach a value of $92,2 billion dollars by 2024, with market growth expected to accelerate in accordance with the adoption of disruptive technologies such as electric vehicles and smart grid storage.

Disposal of said batteries can be complex. Recycling is rendered complex and expensive due to their hybrid composition, leading to their dumping on landfills. As these batteries contain a flammable electrolyte that can result in fire or even explosions if they are punctured, damaged, or heated, disposal within the confines of common household waste is not feasible.

With recycling plant and landfill fires caused by lithium batteries on the rise, trade organizations representing the full gamut of home appliance manufacturers as well as electronic waste collection and treatment services came together to discuss measures to curb their outbreak.

Guidelines proposed in ‘Recommendations for tackling fires caused by lithium batteries in WEEE’ are addressed at policy makers, local entities and collective schemes by stakeholders within the Waste Electrical and Electronic equipment (WEEE) as well as battery sector.

The better identification of electrical waste containing lithium batteries, the design of electrical goods that have the efficient removal of batteries in mind, better instructions with regards to the handling of non-damaged (ex. possible insulation of battery terminals) and damaged batteries (ex. separation and placement in an absorbent, non-flammable material) coupled with citizen awareness campaigns were solutions raised within the paper.

"The report concludes that there is not a magic formula that will eradicate the risk of fires caused by WEEE containing batteries," says the WEEE Forum. "It is imperative that actions are taken urgently in all steps of the lifecycles of EEE and lithium batteries and by all actors in the value chain: from design to disposal of WEEE and batteries including the consideration of transport and treatment. For this, further work to assess the extent of the issue and potential solutions is required."

As a driver of sustainability goals, the European Green Deal and the new Circular Economy Action Plan ascribe particular importance to “electronics” within the key product value chain. In order to reach these objectives, the waste management sector is tasked in building a multi-stakeholder strategy that touches on the solutions detailed above.