Dangers of Lithium Batteries and How to Properly Dispose

Here’s a closer look at the dangers of lithium batteries and how to properly dispose of them to avoid risks.

New battery technologies are powering the devices we use today and making it possible to effortlessly stay connected while performing more tasks than ever before. Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are used in our digital cameras, mobile devices, laptops, medical devices, and even in electric cars. They can also become the most dangerous of batteries in our homes and workplaces. Careful disposal is critical to prevent serious harm to the environment and to public health.

These are same batteries making headlines for causing recycling truck fires, explosions and other problems. The root cause is improper handling.

Here’s a closer look at the dangers of lithium batteries (both ion lithium and disposable lithium batteries) and how to properly dispose of them to avoid risks.

Spark & Fire Hazard

One of the major concerns with improper disposal of these types of batteries is that they can easily cause a spark followed by fire when temperatures are too high or if they are bouncing around in a dry, metal recycling truck for example. Pressure can also lead to them bursting, punctures, overcharging and even manufacturing defects can all lead to serious problems.

To avoid these and other dangers, it’s recommended that lithium batteries are sorted manually and separated based on the material type. Once they are responsibly smelted and chemicals are separated they can be reused or tossed.

Don’t let the term “disposable” fool you with smaller ion batteries that don’t recharge on their own. They still contain high levels of lithium metal or lithium compounds as an anode internally and present the risks. Even with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, while metal isn’t inside, there are lithium ions and highly flammable electrolytes inside that must be cared for.

Home and Office Best Practices

Developing a sound waste management and recycling plan for your business and home is important. Just as disposal of medical waste in separate containers is vital, so too is ensuring staff and members of your household know to keep all lithium batteries out of wastebaskets and standard recycling bins once they are no longer usable.

Best practices include placing tape over the ends of lithium batteries before placing them in the appropriate collection bins and locating designated drop off locations for hazardous waste.

Bulk collection and pickup requires that batteries be de-energized before they are hauled away for incineration. Government regulations will apply based on each state’s requirements.

Working with a waste disposal company familiar with local laws and proper handling techniques is important. They make it so that you only need to keep the ion batteries separated for hazardous waste collection and then take care of the rest of the process without putting the environment or public health at risk.


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