Fire risks from lithium ion batteries targeted in new waste project

[London 26 April 2019] 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. While accidents are rare when these batteries are used by consumers, 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, Merseyside Resources and Waste Authority, Viridor, Veolia, S Norton, Wastecare and Mersey Fire and Rescue Service 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.

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.”

Pat Gibbons, Station Manager – Community Fire Protection, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service, said:

“Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service recognises the potential fire risks posed by the presence of lithium ion batteries in small mixed WEEE, and is a major issue facing the waste sector and Fire & Rescue Services today.

“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.

“Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service therefore welcomes the SAFeRWEEE project in its aims to develop practical methods for reducing the likelihood and frequency of these waste fires and looks forward to supporting the project throughout its lifetime.”

The project is being financed via the WEEE Fund generated from the WEEE Compliance Fee in 2017. More information on the WEEE Compliance Fee Fund 2017 is available at www.weeefund.uk

ENDS

Notes to Editors

For more information please contact the techUK press office on press@techUK.org or 020 7331 2011.

The WEEE Compliance Fee Fund 2017

  •          Just under £8 million is being made available to support environmental projects from money that was collected through the 2017 WEEE Compliance Fee mechanism. The fund is expected to be spent over the next three years on a range of activities, including technical research, communications, behaviour change activities and local projects.
  •          The compliance fee is a regulatory tool open to the Government to support the delivery of the UK Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations. If a Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS) misses their target, they have an option to pay a compliance fee for the tonnage shortfall. 
  •          The law requires that the compliance fee is set at a level that encourages compliance through collection. The fee therefore complements national targets by creating an additional financial incentive to collect WEEE, because it must at least reflect the true cost of recycling WEEE.
  •          Each year, bodies are invited to submit proposals to run the Compliance Fee in any given year. For the 2017 compliance period, the JTA – a group of trade associations representing producers of electrical and electronic equipment – methodology was selected by the Secretary of State. The Compliance Fee is administered by Mazars LLP on behalf of JTAC, the registered company established by the JTA with the sole purpose of entering into contracts with third parties for services relating to the WEEE Compliance Fee. The current chair of the JTA is Susanne Baker from techUK.
  • Susanne Baker

    Susanne Baker

    Associate Director | Climate, Environment and Sustainability
    T 020 7331 2028

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