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Fire risks from lithium ion batteries targeted in new waste project

A project to explore the safe handling of lithium ion batteries at the end of life, to minimise fire risks at recycling sites, has been announced by the WEEE Fund.

The SAFeRWEEE project is a collaborative project between waste operators and fire chiefs to improve the handling of lithium ion batteries at the end of life following a spate of fires at recycling sites.

Lithium ion batteries are commonly found in consumer IT and electronic products and while accidents are rare, handling at the end of life, particularly if the battery gets punctured, can lead to fires. This can lead to both environmental damage and leave recyclers and collectors of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) facing significant financial losses.

Partners Axion Consulting, Viridor, Veolia, S Norton, Wastecare and Mersey Fire aim to address the risk of fire by demonstrating an effective, safe and commercially viable collection protocol.

Householders will be asked to segregate small mixed WEEE into three streams before disposing of them at Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs): items not containing batteries; batteries removed from items; and, items where batteries cannot be removed. Householders will be required to remove batteries from items before disposing of them.

By separating lithium ion batteries from products, the consortium hope that fire risks can be minimised and ensure that the batteries are correctly handled, treated and recycled.

Trials will take place at three HWRCs over the summer and results will be shared in December. It successful, it is hoped that the protocol could form the basis of a new voluntary collection protocol for the country.

Commenting Richard McKinlay, Head of Circular Economy, Axion Group, said: "The risk of fire from handling lithium ion batteries is a huge challenge for the waste sector. Extracting the batteries at the recycling facility before processing would be incredibly challenging, and so this project aims to remove them altogether from the Small Mixed WEEE (SMW) stream. Not only should this reduce the risk of fire but also could lead to recovery of higher value material through improved householder engagement at waste and recycling centres.”

According to Pat Gibbons, Station Manager – Community Fire Protection, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service: “Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service recognises the potential fire risks posed by the presence of lithium ion batteries in small mixed WEEE. Waste fires can have a devastating impact on businesses, they can see operational activity reduce dramatically, they can cause huge disruption to local residents and have a significant environmental impact."

The project is being financed via the WEEE Fund generated from the WEEE Compliance Fee in 2017.

Author
Neil Tyler

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