Is it time for a radical rethink on how to dispose of lithium batteries?

The way lithium batteries are recycled may need a major rethink amid fears they can catch fire in recycling plants.

There have been several examples of severe blazes in recycling facilities such as a huge fire at the Guernsey Recycling site on the Channel island of Guernsey in August 2018 which took 13 hours to douse. It is believed to have started when a mechanical claw crushed a lithium battery.

Now the authorities in one USA state have taken the drastic decision to cut down the way people can recycle batteries to try to reduce the danger.

Hennepin County in Minnesota has stopped collecting batteries at all but two drop-off recycling sites owing to fears that discarded vape pens and e-cigarettes can easily activate, heat up and start a fire.

The Star Tribune in Minnesota reports that the change in policy has been imposed after a blaze scare at a library hat had a collection point for recycling batteries. A staff member at the county’s Westonka Library noticed smoke wafting from a plastic barrel used as a collection point for recycling batteries. A discarded vape pen had somehow become switched on and began igniting other batteries in the bin.

Vape pens have easy push-button activators that flip on with little pressure and ignite. The fear is that because separating the batteries from the devices is difficult, users tend to dump them whole with the batteries still inside.

David McNary, assistant director of environmental services for Hennepin County, said that if the incident had gone unnoticed or happened at night things could have been much worse.

“One vape pen and you could lose an entire building,” he said.

He added that rechargeable, lithium ion and rechargeable batteries should always be handled with care because they are extremely toxic and combustible. Before bringing them to the drop-off, each battery should be placed in its own bag or tape should be placed over each end.

Lithium-ion battery fires on board planes are rarely publicised but a fire in a device could emit toxic smoke and potentially the battery may even explode, causing damage to the aircraft and putting lives at risk.

AvSax are the world’s best-selling aircraft fire containment bags by far and are now on more than 15,373 aircraft operated by 75 airline companies across the world and have been used 31 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017.

AvSax won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the UK in 2018.