Lithium Ion Batteries: Exploring the Hazards of These Common Rechargeable Batteries

Dangers of Lithium Ion Batteries

In this Special Report we will discuss the hazards associated with improperly disposing of your batteries with an emphasis on a specific type of rechargeable battery known to be most often disposed of incorrectly (with very dangerous results); the Lithium Ion Battery.

Although some single use, non-rechargeable, household batteries can be thrown away with your trash, no batteries should ever be tossed in with your Single Stream recycling. Due to the presence of corrosive chemicals, toxins such as mercury and lead, and charged electrodes, ALL batteries pose hazards and risk of fire, but the biggest risk lies with rechargeable batteries.

Many rechargeable batteries fall under a specific category of battery known as Lithium Ion (also referred to as Li-ion battery or LIB). The Lithium Ion battery found in your electronics such as cell phones, laptops, pads, tablets, iPods and digital cameras is probably the most familiar to you.

It is especially risky when Li-ion batteries are mistakenly put into a recycling bin and end up bouncing around in the back of a dry, recycling truck. Pressure or heat (in the summer months our trucks can get quite hot) can cause them to spark, setting off a chain reaction which spells disaster when that battery is in the back of a full recycling truck, surrounded by dry paper and cardboard. In fact, Lithium Ion batteries are one of the leading causes of recycling truck fires.

The rise of electronics being improperly disposed of in Single Stream recycling is troubling. We live in an age of technology where nearly everyone owns a cellphone, laptop, tablet, etc. and with updates and upgrades being required so often, we find the need to dispose of our older models what seems like…all the time. However, properly disposing of your cellphones and anything containing batteries, especially the volatile Lithium Ion variety, is crucial to avoid dangerous truck fires and ensure safety.

A suggested cause for improper disposal of Li-ions is likely due to a common misconception. When an item states it is “recyclable” many assume that you can recycle it with your Single Stream Recycling; this is not the case. As you may recall from a previous e-newsletter discussing mixed messaging in recycling, when an item is “recyclable”, that simply means it can be recycled in some way; it doesn’t mean it can be put in with your Single Stream recycling. Rechargeable, Lithium Ion batteries can be recycled, but only at specified locations.

It is also important to note that Lithium Ion batteries cannot be disposed of in your trash either! Although the back of a trash truck is usually wetter and less likely to feed the sparks from these batteries and start a fire-they are still considered a toxic material known as household hazardous waste. They pose numerous health and environmental hazards. When you discard them, they must be disposed of at a household hazardous waste collection point (check with your local landfill) or battery recycling drop off location, NOT placed in the trash.

Anna Wilkinson
Director of Public Relations, American Disposal Services