Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A fire breaks out at a recycling facility. First responders are able to contain the blaze, but the facility is damaged, faces costly repairs and its recycling operations suspended until the repairs can be made. The culprit? A lithium-ion battery tossed amongst the trash was suspected to be the cause. But the fallout doesn’t end there: Many recycling facilities and service providers question how they are going to continue to operate due to the risk of fires or whether they should modify the types of materials accepted for recycling.
The recycling industry has reached a tipping point. Fires and other safety incidents are becoming more widespread, forcing companies, facilities, and other end-users to consider practical measures for riskier materials, including batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries aren’t going away. They’re in smartphones, fitness trackers, toothbrushes, toys, greeting cards, watches, power tools and more. Their advantages — being lightweight, powerful and a seamless part of devices – make them easy to overlook and be thrown into the waste stream. Even if these batteries appear dead, they almost always contain a residual charge and can short circuit if the battery condition is compromised or may spark if they come into contact with other metal.
A recent survey, commissioned by Call2Recycle and conducted online by the Harris Poll, found that more than two in five Americans fail to properly sort their recycling. It’s not malice, but these aspirational recyclers often place rechargeable batteries and products that contain them into recycling bins in the hope that the items will be recycled through their residential solid waste collection and recycling services. As batteries and devices become smaller and smaller, it is increasingly difficult to identify and separate these dangers from the rest of the recycling stream.
Waste and recycling facilities aren’t the only ones handling these batteries. Manufacturers, research institutions, repair depots and distribution centers move, transfer, dispose of and ship batteries all the time. The risks to them, while not as widely reported, are just as real, particularly as batteries become increasingly pervasive.
No matter what preventive measures employers take, building consumer awareness around battery handling and proper disposal is critical and a proven way to address this situation. Call2Recycle learned from its 2018 pilot safety campaign, Avoid the Spark, in Northern California that consumer education is the most important step to take in reducing battery-related safety issues. Until individuals better understand these risks and handle batteries correctly, recycling facilities, transporters and others will be on the defensive. Call2Recycle’s safety education program significantly reduced safety risks in its program.
To back stop those handling batteries, including municipalities, household hazardous waste facilities and transfer stations, and to help them defend against safety and fire incidents, Call2Recycle is now offering a range of solutions that help prevent, contain and extinguish battery fires. It’s announced a new partnership with CellBlock Fire Containment Systems earlier this month to distribute its innovative battery protection solutions that will make collecting, handling, storing and transporting batteries — especially damaged, defective or recalled batteries — safer.
As more and more batteries enter the market and subsequently the waste stream, Call2Recycle knows this will aid in the protection of people and property. The battery fire suppression and prevention offerings provide an environmentally sound solution to more safely handle individual battery recalls and transporting and storing batteries of different shapes and sizes. The solutions incorporate CellBlockEX, a mineral-based, extinguishing agent that suffocates fires by displacing the oxygen and absorbing the energy. Fire suppression pillows and blankets can be used in a variety of environments, including warehouses, laboratories and hazardous waste facilities. Thanks to the special fire/heat/smoke suppressant liner, UN-rated drums, under a special permit from the US Department of Transportation, offers more versatile solutions for bulk shipping.
Batteries will continue to power our lives and as they become lighter and even more powerful, we need to ensure that they are handled responsibly at their end of life. Call2Recycle continues to pursue new innovative ways to make it safer for all those involved in the collection, transport, handling, and recycling of batteries as part of its overall mission to optimize battery collection to help protect and preserve the environment.