While CRT Glass has dominated as one of the most challenging environmental pollution and health and safety concerns of the past decade, lithium batteries are fast becoming the next big concern. Lithium batteries pose numerous risks throughout the reuse and recycling process. Compounding these risks is the increasing prevalence of lithium batteries in desktops, mobile devices, and laptop computers. Lithium batteries are also increasingly used in smaller devices such as wearables, disposable toys, key FOBs, flashlights, etc. Recyclers and others in the chain of custody must understand the risks and take the proper precautions.
The primary hazard with Lithium batteries is overheating. When a lithium battery short circuits or is damaged, it can overheat. The battery commonly expands and becomes hot, and may ignite other materials. For example, a lithium battery packaged in cardboard boxes could ignite the cardboard.
A common practice in recycling facilities is the removal of coin batteries from desktop computers and other types of equipment. These batteries are typically lithium metal, and are aggregated in buckets. This can create the perfect environment for overheating when the residual charge in these batteries is accelerated by contact with other batteries.
Improper processing of devices containing lithium batteries poses another safety hazard. Equipment should not normally be shredded with the lithium battery inside.
- Lithium coin batteries should be removed from desktops, laptops, servers, and other devices before shredding the unit.
- Rechargeable lithium batteries should be removed from laptops and mobile devices prior to shredding.
- Internal batteries glued into mobile devices, gadgets, wearables, etc. should also be removed prior to shredding.
Recyclers are not the only ones exposed to this hazard. Overheating has also been known to occur in the device itself, prior to battery removal. This is particularly common in mobile devices. Overheating presents a hazard for collectors, transporters, refurbishers, and others that are handling the whole units.
Whether you handle individual lithium batteries, or devices containing lithium batteries, you should be prepared for a battery overheating or fire emergency. Ensure that you have the procedures and equipment to control this hazard and respond to an emergency situation.