Lithium battery risk in waste removal

Lithium battery risk in waste removal

Lithium batteries are a rechargeable energy source used in a myriad of products including cell phones, laptops, e-scooters and electric vehicles (EVs). Within the construction and building industries, lithium batteries are widely used in tools and machinery – everything from drills to forklifts and excavators. One of the major benefits lithium batteries provide is high energy density which deliver superior performance without adding weight. Unfortunately, they also come with a serious downside.

Horror stories and videos of phones, scooters and EV’s spontaneously combusting have taken centre stage in the media recently. The accompanying reports always stress the intensity of the heat generated by the fire and the difficulties fire fighters experience trying to extinguish the blaze once it has taken hold – with fires often smoldering for days.

As an environmentally responsible waste management company, SKIPZ Recycling is committed to raising awareness about the handling and disposal of hazardous waste products.

By understanding how and why these incidents occur we are able to mitigate risk and enjoy the benefits lithium batteries offer.

Risks

If overcharged, damaged, overheated or short circuited, lithium batteries run the risk of initiating a chain of events known as ‘thermal runaway’. Once it commences, thermal runaway has to run its course, only extinguished once it has completely burned out. Even in the absence of oxygen, thermal runaway cannot be halted. Firefighting is complex, dangerous and time consuming, as it is difficult to cool the battery cells and flames can reach over 1000C.

Off-gassing from the burning batteries, releases toxic, volatile gases which may be inhaled, and even minor exposure can result in bronchial irritation, vomiting, tremor, nausea and fatigue.

When a lithium battery fire is detected, staff are evacuated from site and work must be stopped for hours or even days while the fire is extinguished and toxic gases dissipate. This results in business and service interruption, health risks to workers and is a significant drain on firefighting resources.

In a construction setting, lithium batteries are widely used. Below is just a small selection of the variety of equipment which may utilise lithium batteries as a power source:

– Dumpers, forklifts and excavators

– Power tools including:

– Drills and drill presses

– Generators

– Grinders

– Buffers and polishers

– Planers

– Rotary tools

– Routers and joiners

– Sanders

Handling

There are two main factors which increase the potential to ignite lithium batteries – overheating and damage. By initiating proper handling and disposal processes, the majority of fires are preventable.

– Always use the charger specific to that battery or device

– Store batteries and devices away from flammable materials

– Do not overcharge batteries. With EVs, follow manufacturer instructions regarding charge limits.

– Properly dispose of batteries

Disposal

Any broken or out of service tools and equipment containing lithium batteries must be disposed of carefully and in line with local regulations. They should NEVER be discarded in general waste bins or even recycling bins.

In Australia there are a number of free recycling services offering safe disposal of lithium-ion batteries including B-cycle who offer over 3,200 drop-off points across Australia.

As industry leaders in the collection, processing and disposal of building and construction waste, Skipz Recycling prioritise the safety our workers, the community and our environment. We encourage everyone to contribute to sustainable and responsible business practices and with our zero waste goals, we value our role in the circular economy. As part of this mission we are raising awareness around the disposal of hazardous and volatile waste in a responsible and environmentally considerate manner.

Together with our clients and business partners, we are working towards are greener, cleaner world – one skip at a time.

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