Encouraging battery recycling to reduce waste stream fires

Background

Used batteries pose a significant fire risk in the waste stream when not disposed of properly. It is assumed that the risk would reduce if more people disposed of batteries properly. Yet what the public knows about, and does with, used batteries has not been well documented until now.

Research objectives

This research therefore set out to understand:

  • how people are currently disposing of batteries; 
  • what they know, think and feel that influences this behaviour;
  • what communications and other interventions might drive more safe disposal of batteries and so reduce fire risk. 

The research looked at attitudes and behaviours towards both loose household batteries and embedded batteries; the latter are those found in items like toothbrushes, shavers, e-cigarettes and toys. 

Methodology

Qualitative and quantitative research was carried out in June to August 2021

Qualitative research consisted of online interviews with people at various life stages. To account for a range of local recycling collection services, participants were selected in Newcastle, Dartford, Leeds and Bridgend. People who do not recycle at all were excluded.

The qualitative findings were tested and validated via an online survey of 2,000 adults. Based on this nationally representative sample, 94% of adults had disposed of household batteries in the past year and 48% had disposed of at least one electrical item with a chargeable built-in battery. 

Key findings

  • Many people do dispose of their loose and embedded batteries properly, at least some of the time. However, at least 25% of the UK population appear to be binning batteries, and nearly a third (29%) of those people who dispose of electrical items have put at least one of them in a household bin or recycling container in the past year. Many people are unaware that there are embedded batteries in some electricals.
  • Some of the electricals items most commonly disposed of were: electric toothbrushes (39% of respondents), device charger/ powerbank (24%) and shaver/trimmer (22%). Other items commonly disposed of included electric toys, power tools, e-cigarettes and bluetooth earbuds.
  • Of the people who throw batteries in the bin, most say they don’t know what to do with them, and only 10% of binners are aware of the fire risk of incorrect disposal. Binners appear more likely to be younger and female, particularly for loose batteries. People who are aware of the risk are less likely to be binning batteries.
  • Choice of language for communications is key: a more definitive, instructional tone seems more likely to ensure people act in the right way. Messaging requires further development by organisations wanting to drive change.

Conclusions

The findings suggest that higher awareness of the fire risk from batteries could help reduce binning. Focusing on people who regularly bin loose and embedded batteries could make the greatest impact. The wording and tone of communications is critical.

For more detail download the full research debrief, below.

Encouraging battery recycling to reduce waste stream fires: Research findings and recommendations

Material Focus with Real World Planning and Opinium, November 2021.

Download
Encouraging Battery Recycling To Reduce Waste Stream Fires Nov 21 cover