Battery Recycling : Waste management companies warn warn against incorrect disposal of batteries

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"Major fire in waste disposal company", "Electrical waste burnt to the ground", "100 emergency personnel in action at recycling company": These headlines are terrible, all the more so because they could easily have been prevented. Because often the cause of the fire is a lithium battery incorrectly disposed of in the residual waste, which ignited itself through friction and thus caused a fire. The Association of Austrian Waste Management Companies (VOEB) once again urges the population to dispose of batteries separately only in the collection boxes provided for this purpose in shops or at waste material collection centres. The often inconspicuous arsonists can be found in game consoles and controllers, do-it-yourself devices, remote-controlled cars, drones, kitchen and household appliances, smartphones, singing greeting cards or gardening tools.

Hold manufacturers accountable

By disposing of batteries properly, every individual contributes to preventing dangerous fires. The VOEB therefore calls for more educational work and an increase in the collection rate through the introduction of a battery deposit. However, the association also emphasises that the responsibility for each individual battery lies first and foremost with the manufacturer of battery-powered products. Electrical and electronic equipment must be designed so that batteries can be removed by the end user, which is often not the case. In addition to mandatory, uniform labelling of appliances containing the particularly hazardous lithium batteries, however, consumers should also be better informed and financial incentives for collection should be established.

"Incorrectly disposed of batteries pose an unacceptable risk to our employees. The material damage is also enormous and poses a huge challenge to the industry," warns Gabriele Jüly, President of the VOEB. "In recent weeks, major fires at our waste management companies have become more frequent, and this cannot continue." On the Easter weekend, dense clouds of smoke rose hundreds of metres high above companies in Styria and Tyrol, the fire brigade had to be called out, fortunately no one was injured. The cause of the fire was most likely a defective battery that was mistakenly disposed of in the residual waste.

1.4 million lithium batteries end up in residual waste

Currently, there is only a legal collection rate of 45 per cent for batteries in Austria. However, due to the massive increase of lithium batteries in circulation, this is a disaster for the disposal companies, according to the VOEB. For years, Prof. Roland Pomberger from the University of Leoben has been dealing with the powerful, highly explosive lithium batteries. "We can clearly prove the connection between the increasing number of lithium batteries in residual waste and fires at waste management companies."

Rapidly increasing fire statistics

In the last ten years, fires at recycling companies have increased tenfold, according to studies by the University of Leoben. The scientific community warns that the number of lithium batteries in residual waste has doubled from the current 1.4 to 2.8 million and predicts a further increase in dangerous fires. "Every lithium battery is a potential source of ignition. Waste treatment and recycling increases the likelihood of damage and therefore the likelihood of a fire. For the waste and resource management industry, this development threatens its existence. Many facilities have already been completely destroyed."

EU clears the way for deposit system

Only a few months ago, the "Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection" of the European Parliament adopted a landmark regulation. It clears the way for the introduction of a deposit system in the individual member states, if the respective governments so desire. In this way, the collection rate for batteries is to be increased and the use of recycled materials increased.