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These explosions show why it's important to properly recycle batteries

Wednesday, October 28th 2020, 11:37 am - The toxic chemicals in batteries can contaminate the environment and can be dangerous when they are being processed at waste and recycling centres.

Take Charge is a UK-based campaign that raises awareness about the dangers of throwing out dead batteries as regular waste.

Footage captured the harrowing moment inside a waste and recycling centre that shows materials being sorted by workers. One of the discarded items violently explodes and sends an employee dashing to the scene with a fire extinguisher.

The campaign says that this is the danger of carelessly discarding certain dead batteries, including lithium-ion (Li-ion) and nickel-metal Hydride (NiMH). Take Charge dubbed these dead batteries as “zombie batteries” because of their potential to ignite or explode when they are crushed or punctured at waste and recycling centres.

The UK’s Environmental Services Association (ESA) launched the Take Charge campaign on October 26, 2020 to emphasize that dead batteries should only be recycled using specialized services.

li-ion batteries wikimedia commons Several lithium-ion batteries used in mobile phones. Credit: Phrontis via Wikimedia Commons

The ESA says that fires caused by Li-ion batteries at their recycling and waste facilities increased by 38 per cent from April 2019 to March 2020, which is approximately 250 fires during the twelve-month period.

Li-ion batteries contain many chemical components that are toxic and difficult to separate because they were not designed for recyclability. Transition metals and toxic lithium salts can be damaging to the environment because of their ability to contaminate soil and water sources, which is why it is important to keep them separated from traditional solid waste.

There is also little economic incentive to incorporate recycling-friendly designs into these batteries because the cost of recycling a Li-ion battery is higher than the worth of the recoverable materials inside of it.

Experts say that recycling with specialized services is the best disposal method for dead batteries. Due to the challenges associated with transporting and recycling batteries, experts recommend that domestic and international governing bodies create facilities and regulations so they can be safely handled.

Relatedly, the Canadian government says that batteries should be stored in their original packaging in a cool, dark place away from household chemicals as well as medicines and food so they are not accidentally ingested. Batteries should not be thrown out with household garbage, and instead should be dropped off at retailers or battery recycling programs run by local governments. Call2Recycle is Canada’s largest battery recycling program and a list of drop-off locations can be found here.

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