A SAFETY campaigner has warned that the Government needs to take immediate action to stop the spread of hundreds of fires which are being caused by discarded goods containing lithium-ion batteries.
Susie Burrage, president of the British Metals Recycling Association, said there is currently an epidemic of fires caused by discarded batteries breaking out at recycling centres around the country.
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are used to supply power to many kinds of devices including mobile/cordless phones, laptops, scooters, e-cigarettes, smoke alarms, toys, power tools and even cars.
Shocking new figures this week from a survey of 58 local authorities found that batteries had caused 600 fires in bin lorries and at recycling centres in the past year, causing damage estimated at £474 million.
Ms Burrage said a national scheme to recycle batteries is needed as the problem with fires is a growing one.
“Identification and segregation of items containing lithium batteries from other waste is essential to ensure waste and metal recycling facilities remain safe,” she said.
“The incorrect disposal of lithium-ion batteries is one of the biggest health and safety threats that have ever faced by the waste and metal recycling industries.
“Lately, there has been a significant rise in the number of fires at metal recycling sites, due to concealed lithium-ion batteries,” she added.
When lithium-ion batteries are punctured, damaged or exposed to high temperatures or moisture, they may spontaneously combust and set fire to any flammable wastes around them.
The growing use of batteries in everyday products, such as e-scooters, means that it is a growing problem but there is no national scheme to ensure batteries are disposed of safely.
The BMRA’s Ms Burrage said: “If these lithium-ion battery-containing items are not segregated they pose a serious safety risk for anyone who works in the processing and storage areas of household waste and recycling sites, and metal recycling sites where these items ultimately end up.
“These batteries are deadly ticking time bombs and we are witnessing more and more cases across the UK where they are going off with disastrous consequences.
“The Government needs to commit to an awareness campaign to educate people across the UK about the dangers these batteries can pose and how to dispose of them safely.”
Currently, householders’ only option is to take redundant waste electrical and electronic equipment to their local recycling centre for correct disposal and ensure they put their items in the correct container.
“Lithium-ion batteries need to be disposed of separately, not co-mingled with any other waste products,” said Ms Burrage.
“The bonus for doing this is a reduction in the risk of fires and it allows the recovery of valuable natural resources, lithium in this case, so it’s a win-win if everyone recycles responsibly.”
The introduction of a dedicated national kerbside collection scheme may be a solution to the problem, she added.
Firefighters spent two days this week cooling down batteries at recycling centre in Darlaston in the Black Country, amid fears that a major fire could have broken out due to heatwave temperatures.
Lincoln City Council issued a warning to householders last week after a battery was blamed for setting a bin lorry on fire.
A string of household fires caused by batteries in e-scooters exploding while being charged have been reported in recent months, underlying the dangers of lithium-ion batteries.
The London Fire Brigade has tackled over 30 fires linked to electric bikes and scooters so far this year.