New Guide Helps MRFs Manage Lithium Batteries Safely

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), National Waste & Recycling Association (NW&RA) and the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) have jointly developed a Guide for Developing Lithium Battery Management Practices at Materials Recovery Facilities.

According to Recycling Today, the guide was devised to assist materials recovery facilities (MRFs) manage and dispose of lithium-ion batteries (LIB), and how to respond and manage in case of a fire.

The increase in LIB in consumer products has brought a rise in fires at waste and recycling facilities. Incorrect disposal of these batteries can unknowingly cause them to catch fire and even sometimes explode, which can cause injuries to workers and equipment.

Also, consumers lack awareness of this risk and do not know how to manage or dispose of LIBs correctly. To help prevent these batteries from entering the municipal waste and recycling stream in the first place, the new guide also includes consumer awareness messaging.

The ability of LIBs to store power in a relatively small size has made them very popular in nearly all consumer products. They also can store electricity for longer than traditional batteries, meaning our products work when we need them to, and they can be charged quickly when required.

However, from smartphones to heavy-duty electric trucks, the batteries that power them do, over time, become inefficient and require replacing, and ultimately disposing of. Current trends indicate that most of these could end up in landfill where they can leach materials to the surrounding environment.

As the popularity of electric vehicles grows exponentially, so does the pile of spent lithium-ion batteries that once powered those cars. Analysts predict that by the end of 2020, China alone will generate some 500,000 metric tons of used Li-ion batteries and that by 2030, the worldwide number will hit 2 million metric tons per year.

LIB power packs contain valuable metals and other materials that can be recovered, processed, and reused, but there is more research into lowering the costs and increase battery longevity and charge capacity, instead of focusing on improving recyclability.

Our goal is to lower the risk of fires in MRFs caused from lithium-ion batteries,” said ISRI Vice President of Safety Tony Smith. We believe that this joint effort guidance will educate both the operators & consumers as well as raise awareness of the issue in the recycling stream”.

Jesse Maxwell, Advocacy and Safety Senior Manager for the Solid Waste Association of North America, explained that the guide contains valuable information to help protect MRF personnel, equipment and facilities from the risks involved with management and disposal of LIBs.

Lithium-ion battery fires are a serious issue that requires concerted action to address,” he added.

The guide is the result of collaboration by stakeholders representing MRF owners and operators, suppliers, waste and recycling associations, battery associations, battery recyclers, and can be downloaded here.

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