Don’t Turn Your Discarded Batteries Into Fire Hazards

Published on by Green Initiatives

Batteries can not only bring down airplanes, but are also a serious threat to environmental and human health when disposed irresponsibly.

You must be aware that when you travel by an airplane, your check-in luggage cannot contain lithium batteries as they are a potential fire hazard. But are all batteries dangerous?

Different types of batteries can be found powering common household devices. Have you ever wondered why is a battery considered as hazardous while we use them all day long, keeping them in our pockets, or even under our pillows when we sleep? As a matter of fact, with the increasing demands for batteries in this information age, they pose to be a huge threat to the environment.

Generally, batteries can be classified into two categories: Primary Batteries & Secondary Batteries.

Primary Batteries – those that cannot be recharged once depleted

Primary batteries are the ones that cannot be recharged once depleted. Primary batteries are made of electrochemical cells whose electrochemical reaction cannot be reversed. They exist in different forms ranging from coin cells to AA batteries, commonly used in standalone applications such as remote controllers, alarm clocks, and many other small household appliances where charging is impractical or impossible. The most popular type of primary batteries are alkaline batteries that are cost-effective and can be stored for several years.

Prior to 1996, alkaline batteries contained mercury, which made them highly toxic when disposed irresponsibly. Although now the mercury content had been removed from the manufacturing process, it doesn’t change the fact that alkaline batteries are still a threat to the environment. With a significant number of these batteries being sent to landfills, the chemicals inside will leach into the soil and water when and the case corrodes, eventually polluting our oceans.

Secondary batteries -- also referred to as rechargeable batteries

Secondary batteries are batteries with electrochemical cells whose chemical reactions can be reversed by applying a certain voltage to the battery in the reversed direction. They are used to power portable devices, larger electric vehicles, and some are even served as power source to supply electricity.

Different types of rechargeable batteries include Lithium-ion, nickel cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, and lead-acid, where lithium batteries are the most common ones, charging smartphones and tablets to electric wheelchairs and alarm systems. They are low maintenance, lighter, and more powerful than most other battery alternatives.

But once they reach their end of useful life, there is one huge problem – very few companies/recyclers have the capacity or the expertise to recycle them safely in order to control a wide variety of pollutants (e.g. heavy metals, Volatile Organic Compounds). As a result, less than 5% of lithium batteries are recycled today.

Lithium batteries pose greater risks than alkaline batteries if they are mishandled. When they’re dropped off at small recycling facilities, they’re often stored alongside regular waste. The problem is these batteries are anything but regular.  Lithium-ion batteries store a lot of energy and slowly release it over long periods of time, which makes them ideal for powering smartphones and laptops.  But when all the energy is released at once, it causes a short circuit, where the positive and negative electrodes touch each other – which causes what the recycling industry calls a “thermal event.”  In the U.S. and Canada, there was a 26% increase in facility fires in 2018, and lithium-ion batteries were frequently cited as a cause.  In 2017, 65% of reported waste facility fires in California were caused by lithium-ion batteries.

So, questions arose regarding how to deal with the batteries after their lifespans complete.

There are specific methods required to safely transport, handle, store, and recycle specific batteries.  This makes it critical that organizations avoid sending their batteries to recyclers or landfills that do not have the sophistication to process them properly.

Recycling your batteries through the [WE] Project

Green Initiatives has been working with TES, a global leader in IT waste recycling. The [WE] project was launched in May 2016 providing local communities and businesses with e-waste recycling boxes, where individuals can drop off their unwanted or broken electronic products. The [WE] box now accepts all types of batteries!

In case you are not close to a WE box or unable to send your batteries to a licensed e-waste handling facility, then ensure you drop off your batteries in the Hazardous Waste trash bin.

The TES Shanghai facility features a proprietary process to safely discharge batteries before crushing them into different fractions like ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics and black mass. From there they can safely refine the material back into commodity grade elements (cobalt, aluminum, copper, etc.) to be reused in the forward manufacturing stream, which is unmatched in the recycling industry today.

Want to safely dispose your batteries? Click here to see the [WE] box drop-off locations. If you have any questions towards safe/sustainable battery recycling, please contact TES.