‘Zombie batteries’ causing hundreds of waste fires, experts warn

Damian Carrington Environment editor
·2-min read

Watch: 'Zombie Batteries' cause fires at UK waste and recycling centres

“Zombie batteries” are causing hundreds of fires a year at waste and recycling sites, industry experts have warned. They are urging people to ensure dead batteries are not thrown away in household rubbish or recycling.

Batteries discarded with general waste are likely to be crushed or punctured during collection and processing, according to the Environmental Services Association (Esa). Some types, particularly lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries, can ignite or explode when damaged and set fire to other materials. In some cases, this leads to incidents requiring dozens of firefighters and the evacuation of residents, potentially putting lives at risk.

Lithium-ion batteries are believed to have been responsible for at least 250 fires at recycling and waste facilities across the UK in the year to March 2020. These fires represented more than a third of all fires reported, up from a quarter the year before.

Related: The troubling fire record of UK recycling plants

<span>Photograph: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock

Lithium-ion batteries are typically found in laptops, tablets, mobile phones, Bluetooth devices, shavers, electric toothbrushes, power tools and e-cigarettes. They are increasingly prevalent in devices, says Esa, meaning the problem is likely to get worse unless people change their behaviour.

People in the UK throw away 22,000 tonnes of batteries a year, according to Esa, but only 45% are recycled properly.

“Fires caused by carelessly discarded batteries endanger lives, cause millions of pounds of damage and disrupt waste services,” said Jacob Hayler, Esa’s executive director. “We urge consumers to please recycle batteries responsibly by using battery recycling points in shops and recycling centres, or a separate battery kerbside collection if available.”

Mark Andrews, who leads on waste fires for the National Fire Chiefs Council, said: “Batteries in household waste and recycling can lead to large-scale and protracted fires. These incidents are often very challenging for fire services to deal with and can cause significant disruption to communities.”

Esa’s new Take Charge campaign asks the public to “join the fight against zombie batteries” and gives information on where to recycle batteries responsibly.

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