Lithium-ion battery fires costing UK economy £158 million annually

New research conducted by Eunomia Research and Consulting has found that 48 per cent of annual waste fires are estimated to be caused by lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, costing the UK economy at least £158 million every year.

The new report, produced jointly with the Environmental Services Association (ESA), has found that the number of fires caused by Li-ion batteries are widespread, with an estimated 201 waste fires started by these batteries each year.

Li battery in wasteWith more Li-ion batteries placed onto the market each year, there is concern that the problem is set to worsen, as the number of fires reported by ESA members caused by Li-ion batteries continues to increase annually.

These increases are leaving waste site operators with significant material damage, business interruption and loss of recycling resources. Waste site operators are also left with the largest financial burden, incurring around 90 per cent of total costs incurred by Li-io waste fires.

Li-ion batteries are found in everyday items such as electric toothbrushes and mobile phones and pose significant fire risks when they get into residual waste and mixed recycling waste streams.

These batteries can cause fires when they are punctured, damaged or exposed to high temperatures, causing them to ‘go off’ and set fire to any dry, flammable waste or recycling around them.

These fires can cause extensive environmental damage, with some Li-ion waste fires burning for weeks. In these cases, water pollution is caused by the run-off from extinguishing fires and harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the fire are released into the atmosphere.

The report proposes a number of measures designed to reduce waste fires caused by Li-ion batteries, which includes banning the disposal of batteries in residual and mixed recycling waste streams.

It also recommends ensuring producers fund kerbside collections of batteries through an extended producer responsibility (EPR) system.

Eunomia’s lead author of the report, Sophie Crossette, said: “The findings of this research highlight the significant financial burden Li-ion battery waste fires place on the waste sector and public sector services.

“To date, much of the focus on preventing waste fires has been on improved controls and infrastructure at waste sites. As this report suggests, we now need to focus on upstream interventions to divert batteries and WEEE products from the mixed waste stream to tackle this growing issue”

“If we don’t start to take action now, the increased use of Li-ion batteries, will only increase the cost and impact of Li-ion battery waste fires in the years to come.”