Waste batteries come in a number of different types, chemistries and form factors such as:
- Lithium batteries – used in laptops, cameras, phones etc.
- Alkaline batteries – used in TV remotes, torches, alarm clocks, etc.
- Lead acid batteries – car batteries, etc.
- Other portable battery chemistry types used in power tools, lighting equipment and other applications – NiMH, NiCd, etc.
Safety concerns Associated with Waste Batteries
Some key safety concerns associated with waste batteries are as follows:
- If damaged, waste lithium batteries can enter a condition known as “thermal runaway” in which they produce excessive heat and release flammable vapours. While in this condition they are liable to vent harmful and flammable gasses, catch fire or explode and cause injury or damage to surrounding areas. This condition can sometimes be detected by the presence of a soapy smell, hissing or venting from the battery case, swelling, heating, smoking, etc.
- Waste batteries could have a residual charge which could pose a risk of electrical injury to persons handling the battery or those nearby.
- In some circumstances, lithium batteries can release vapours and gasses which could be harmful to health. This condition can sometimes be detected by the presence of a soapy or detergent-like smell.
- Lead acid batteries have been known to leak acid which could cause injury or damage to property.
In order to minimise the risk of a waste battery becoming damaged and exhibiting some of the typical dangerous behaviours such as swelling, smoking, hissing, heating, etc. there is a need to take some general safety precautions.
- Ensure that battery waste is never mixed with other waste – especially metal or other conductive materials which could result in an electrical short. Button cell batteries are known to short the terminals on other batteries and it is recommended that they are taped across both surfaces to minimise this risk.
- Do not lift heavy containers without assistance and always consult your organisations Health and Safety representative for the correct procedure.
- Never wrap waste batteries in aluminium foil or other conductive material which could give rise to an electrical short.
- Never puncture, crush or dismantle batteries since this could result in injury or property damage.
- Waste batteries should only be stored in their designated storage container. In the case of lead acid batteries the dolav bin should be used. For all other types of batteries either the 60L UN drum or the small blue “Battery Box” should be used. The “Battery Box” or UN drum should never be overfilled.
- Waste batteries should always be kept out of reach of children, animals, etc.
- For recycling at an organisation such as a business, school, retailer, etc. consult your local appointed safety representative for guidance on your organisations procedures.
- Waste batteries should be stored in a cool, dry, weatherproof and supervised location away from sources of heat and out of direct sunlight. Consult your appointed safety representative for guidance on your organisations procedures.
- Storage of waste batteries for long periods of time should be avoided. Batteries which have been in storage for an extended period of time should be deposited at your nearest collection point or via any participating retailer. See a list of collection points in your area.
- Where there is a variety of batteries stored in a WEEE Ireland Battery Box or a mix of various types of batteries (eg. Lithium/Alkaline) please tape over the terminals of batteries with sticky tape and consult your organisations appointed safety officer for guidance. Removal of the batteries should be arranged promptly to a WEEE Ireland collection point. See a list of collection points in your area.
- Always consult your battery manufacturers waste guidelines on battery packaging provided.
- Always close the battery box when full and remove promptly to a collection point for recycling. See a list of collection points in your area.
- A downloadable version of the WEEE Ireland Battery Safety Sheet is available here.
Recharge has produced some good guidance on lithium batteries in the form of a lithium-ion battery fact sheet. It is available here.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has produced some guidance on the storage of hazardous household waste. It can be found here.
Further information is available upon request from firstname.lastname@example.org