The British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA) has called for a ban on households placing unwanted waste electrical equipment (WEEE) and lithium-ion batteries in roadside collection bins. In replacement, it suggests that the Government instruct local councils to carry out kerbside collections for the items, which includes single-use vapes.
The BMRA states change is needed as the waste and recycling sector is witnessing ‘an ever-increasing’ number of fires caused by WEEE items and lithium-ion batteries. In line with this, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has presented his concerns at the escalating number of cases being dealt with by firefighters in the capital.
London Fire Brigade has reported that there have been 130 fires this year involving the batteries, 65 used by e-bikes, 24 used by e-scooters and the remainder used in e-cigarettes – events that Sadiq Khan has ‘serious safety concerns’ about. The BMRA highlights that some of these items have become known to overheat when being charged.
A study carried out by Materials Focus found that more than 600 fires in bin lorries and recycling centres have been caused by batteries, often those hidden inside WEEE. If batteries, or electricals containing batteries, end up inside bins or recycling lorries with other materials then they are crushed in the waste and recycling process. The research from Material Focus warns that this increases the chance that they could be punctured and self-combust, setting fire to surrounding dry and flammable waste and recycling.
Separately, data from the Environmental Services Association found lithium-ion batteries were responsible for around 48 per cent of all waste fires occurring in the UK each year which is costing around £158m annually.
Demonstrating the necessity for change in WEEE management, the association calls attention to the fact that five people were hospitalised in July after a house fire in Walthamstow. Firefighters said the cause was the failure of lithium-ion batteries for a converted e-bike. The following month, four people were taken to hospital after a fire in a flat in Bow – caused by an e-bike being charged, which burst into flames in a hallway of the building.
With the aim of combatting this issue, the recent national ‘Take Charge’ campaign – re-launched by the Environmental Services Association (ESA) alongside its members and the compliance scheme Ecosurety – saw consumers across the UK being urged to recycle batteries, and electronic devices containing batteries, using specialist recycling services.
The campaign, which ran from 24 October until 7 November, reminded the public to never throw batteries away alongside general rubbish or other recycling due to the fire risk. In support of this change, it made a range of content available for permanent use – including signage for Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs), bin-hangers and posters.
Commenting on the BMRA’s announcement, Antonia Grey, the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the BMRA, commented: “Householders need to be taken out of the equation as far as possible when it comes to the disposal of single use vapes and waste electrical and electronic equipment.
“The Government needs to introduce kerbside collections, and it needs to be done before someone is seriously injured or even killed.
“The waste and recycling sector is seeing an ever-increasing number of fires caused by WEEE, including single-use vapes, after they’ve been put in either the recycling bin or the residual black bin. If they are damaged when being processed, a lithium-ion battery can explode, cause a fire, or even electrocution.
“There is currently little understanding amongst the general public as to the dangers posed by incorrectly disposing of lithium-ion batteries and WEEE containing batteries, or indeed how they should be recycled. The problem is made worse by the lack of information about recycling these items and the need for the householder to take lithium-ion batteries and WEEE containing batteries to a recycling point rather than have it collected by local authorities.”
Mr Khan added: “It’s important that Londoners understand which vehicles are safe and which might not be.
“As e-bikes and e-scooters have become more common, the London Fire Brigade has seen an increase in the number of incidents that they are attending involving lithium-ion batteries from these types of vehicles. Conversion kits which allow people to convert a normal bike to an e-bike are the cause of many of the fires.”
“Sadiq Khan is right to be concerned about fire risks posed by lithium-ion batteries,” Ms Grey continued. “However, it is not just batteries found in conversion kits for bikes. All lithium-ion batteries pose a risk, never more so than when they are disposed of incorrectly. That’s why we also believe there needs to be a national communications campaign about the dangers of lithium-ion batteries.”