Mitigating fire risk from batteries in electrical waste

SAFeR WEEE: Investigating a new collection method for Small Mixed WEEE to reduce fire risk.

This report outlines the impact of a new protocol trial aimed at reducing the risk of fire and increasing the value of recoverable material from recyclates. It focuses primarily on encouraging the public to separate lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) from Small Mixed Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (SMW) at Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs).

LIBs are extensively used in mobile electrical and electronic equipment. If damaged they represent a serious fire hazard. If not disposed of properly they pose a significant risk to people and property – particularly during collection and processing of SMW.

Method

In the second half of 2019, new communications materials were displayed alongside new collection bins for batteries and battery-containing devices at three HWRCs in Merseyside. The signs focused on the importance of separating batteries and battery-containing devices from other SMW, in order to reduce risk of fire. 

Reviewing the waste collected after three months, researchers found the facilities were not being used as intended. They therefore modified the communications materials to focus on the need to remove batteries, and withdrew the bins for battery-containing devices. The trial ran for a further month and the waste collected was analysed again.

Findings

The researchers concluded that static signage at the HWRCs alone did not significantly improve practice around recycling of LIBs:

  • The interventions had little effect on the quantity of batteries collected – although historic data for comparison was limited.
  • The communications campaign alone did not lead to a reduction in the number of batteries disposed of in SMW.
  • Users did not grasp the concept of separating battery-containing devices. Researchers attributed this, in part, to the limited time people are willing to spend at the site.
  • A longer trial period, of 12-24 months, would be needed to generate more robust data.

Researchers recommended:

  • Clear communications to encourage users to separate lithium-ion batteries before visiting HWRCs.
  • Positioning SMW and battery bins next to each other to make it easier for users to recycle batteries while disposing of WEEE.
  • Formal training for HWRC staff, and locating containers where it would be easier for staff to direct the public to use the correct bins.
  • Use of signs next to collecting bins, highlighting the fire risk and telling users to recycle batteries separately. 

Find out about applying for research funding.

SAFeR WEEE: Investigating a new collection method for Small Mixed WEEE to reduce fire risk

Richard McKinlay, Axion, & Gareth Morton, Eunomia, August 2020. PDF, 70 pages.

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Safer WEEE report cover