As a company that prides itself on being environmentally friendly, we pay a lot of attention to news coming out of the recycling world.
One of the issues that recycling facilities are dealing with today is the fire risk posed by lithium batteries. There have been quite a few stories emerging nationally about fires that have broken out at recycling facilities due to the combustion of lithium-ion batteries.
We know the importance of having a robust recycling program in the US, and if lithium batteries are a threat to that program, we all need to know about it. This question about whether or not lithium batteries are really environmentally friendly is an important one.
Let’s break it down.
Lithium Batteries Are Considered the More Environmentally Friendly Option–Are They?
Lithium-ion batteries power a huge portion of our daily devices. They are in our phones, laptops, toys, and even our electric toothbrushes. There is a lot of excitement over the possibility of powering cars effectively with lithium batteries instead of fossil fuels.
In general, they have been described as a better option than their previous counterparts, which contained more toxic metals like lead and cadmium. They are qualified as non-hazardous waste, and their components (iron, copper, nickel, and cobalt) are considered safe for both incinerators and landfills.
However, there are some pretty big concerns about the future of these batteries.
Concerns About Lithium Batteries
As these batteries become more and more prevalent, the sheer number of them poses a challenge for waste management and recycling systems.
Lithium mining has a detrimental effect on the environment, and yet the batteries themselves are contributing to a move away from fossil fuel overuse. If a lithium battery in a car allows a person to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, does this cancel out the water pollution associated with lithium extraction?
Are Lithium Batteries a Fire Risk?
Fire is always a risk at recycling facilities. Do lithium batteries contribute to that risk?
Lithium batteries are supposed to be recycled only at approved facilities. They should not be tossed into recycling bins or household garbage. This is because the volatile compounds that are contained within the battery can spark spontaneously. When a lithium battery catches on fire, it is difficult to extinguish.
Joe LaMariana from Rethink Waste says that these batteries are an “existential threat” to recycling facilities. A fire in one of these facilities can cause huge losses for the community, air pollution, injuries, and even death. If the fire is bad enough, it can cause the entire facility to shut down for weeks, months, or even indefinitely.
The EPA researched to determine the severity of the threat of lithium batteries, and they concluded:
“It is clear from the damage cases collected in this report that LIB-caused fires throughout the waste management process are already risking the safety of workers, bystanders, and emergency responders and costing the industry money. This problem is only going to get worse in future years. LIBs are already present in a wide array of applications, and their prevalence is increasing. As devices containing these batteries reach the ends of their useful lives, they will contribute to the surging number of waste LIBs produced. Likewise, as the world transitions to electric vehicles and reliance on intermittent renewable energy that requires significant storage capacity, dealing with large-scale end-of-life LIBs will also become a pressing issue.”
How to Recycle Your Lithium-Ion Battery Products
One of the most important things to take away from this discussion is the importance of properly disposing of anything that contains a lithium battery.
As these products grow in popularity, you will find more and more of them in your daily life. When you need to dispose of a battery or a product that uses one, be sure to follow the latest safety guidelines regarding the correct disposal process. That typically includes finding an approved drop-off disposal site.
Keep these products out of landfills and recycling plants where they pose a risk to the environment and the health and safety of workers.
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