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While the EU Commission continues to discuss minimum collection rates and the German Bundestag obligatory deposit return schemes, the recycling sector is finding itself facing an ever more dangerous situation as a result of the mass production and use of li-ion batteries. More often than not, consumers throw away their devices into their black bin without a second thought when they are no longer needed. The result: dozens of fires at recycling plants, machines standing still for months on end and a large number of employees and front-line workers put at risk.
Mobile phones, notebooks, electric tools and e-bike batteries that have been damaged or handled incorrectly are a major hazard as they can all potentially cause a fire. While consumers tend to be extremely careful about the way they treat their electronic devices the whole time they are using them, these products are very dangerous indeed once they have been discarded. If they are damaged during transport or from simply being dropped, this can cause a short circuit, set off a chemical reaction and lead to sudden fires breaking out at sorting plants or in the refuse collection trucks. Most consumers are unaware of this huge risk.
How exactly do such fires start and how should e-bike batteries, for example, be stored properly? Find out more in this video
“The recycling sector can no longer keep the consequences and risks of these fires under control,” explained Gerhard Jokic, managing director of REMONDIS Electrorecycling. They are a serious health hazard. The substances contained in lithium-ion batteries and that are released during a fire can cause serious smoke poisoning. Besides the worry that employees and rescue services may be harmed, the sector also has to face the costs of repairing the damage to the buildings and machinery, which can reach an eight-figure sum. “Insurance companies have also been sounding the alarm for a long while now,” Jokic continued.
Gerhard Jokic, Managing Director of REMONDIS Electrorecycling
This problem is only going to get bigger. The recycling sector will find itself facing an ever growing volume of e-waste as millions more electronic devices containing lithium-ion batteries are produced and e-mobility continues to grow in popularity. The solution is to systematically implement information campaigns, orderly and structured collection schemes mandated by parliament and a clear labelling of products.
It is essential that consumers realise that electronic devices should never been thrown away with household waste but must be collected separately and recycled. For this to happen, they must be handed in to household recycling centres or specialist retailers. The situation is a far cry from this at the moment. Just 45% of old electronic devices are actually handed in as they should be. The mandatory collection rate for this waste stream has been 65% since 2019. Which is why, for example, both REMONDIS and the BDE [Federal Association of the German Waste Management Industry] are calling for a deposit return scheme to be introduced for devices containing lithium-ion batteries. This will create an incentive for consumers to return their old products, reduce the risks of fire over the long term and, above all, ensure important raw materials can be recovered and reused.
This alone, however, will not minimise the risk of self-combustion as fires can still break out at the retailers and household recycling centres. Which is why discarded devices containing lithium-ion batteries should only be collected and stored in special containers. The recycling sector is, therefore, calling for this to be added to the Battery Law to make this mandatory.
RETRON’s specialty containers offer the highest levels of protection and safety for storing and transporting li-ion batteries. Further information at retron.world.
If devices should self-combust, then special containers can reduce heat generation and ensure the gases are released in a controlled manner. Not until such containers are used can the risk of large fires be prevented and employees protected. Moreover, the recycling industry wishes to see the manufacturers of products with li-ion batteries be obliged to implement the highest possible safety levels. This primarily includes clearly labelling their products and making sure they are handled correctly at the end of their useful life.