Lithium batteries are everywhere these days. It hasn’t always been like that though – experiments with lithium batteries were first conducted in 1912, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s that they were first used commercially, mainly for cameras and a few other small devices. The fact that they were so small, and light made them perfect, but there were far fewer devices that required such batteries back then.
It wasn’t until the late 90’s when they became more widely used, with the invention of the lithium polymer battery. These batteries were able to be shaped to fit different devices, which made them ideal for one product that was just beginning to take off around the same time – the mobile phone.
Today it is thought that 500,000 metric tons of these batteries are produced a year in China alone, with the worldwide total forecast to get up to 2 million metric tonnes a year by 2030. This highlights just how much these little batteries have exploded in popularity over the last 20 years or so. It is a trend that will undoubtedly continue as well, with the emerging popularity of electric cars, which also take advantage of these powerful batteries.
There is a problem, however, when it comes to the disposing of lithium batteries. It is thought that in the EU and USA only around 5% of lithium batteries are recycled, and it is even less than that in Australia. There is plenty within lithium batteries that can be reused, so it is incredibly worrying that so few are being disposed of responsibly from a sustainability point of view. The worrying thing is that this problem doesn’t show any signs of going away – while they aren’t widely recycled, manufacturers aren’t putting very much emphasis on their recycling capabilities during the manufacturing process. It is a vicious circle that threatens to get out of control.
Dangers of Lithium Batteries
Other than the clear issues of waste and impact on the planet, recycling isn’t the only reason that we need to consider how we dispose of lithium batteries – they pose many risks and dangers to people as well.
Even when a lithium battery appears to be ‘dead’ they still maintain around 80% of their thermal capacity. This means that they are still highly combustible, no matter how small the battery may be. If a battery is damaged or smashed, it may start to leak some of its fluid. On top of this, a damaged battery insulation cover could mean that the temperature dramatically increases – sometimes as high as 500℃. The combination of this heat and the battery acid can cause fires or explosions.
Combustion isn’t the only potential danger that lithium batteries pose. The fluids within the batteries are incredibly toxic, which can cause major health problems to people. If ingested directly, which is quite common among small children, the resulting damage could result in vocal cord paralysis or even, in severe cases, death. Similar issues can occur if these batteries end up getting into the water supply, which can happen if people aren’t careful when disposing of lithium batteries.
When it comes to disposing of lithium batteries, we need to start treating them as what they are – a hazardous waste. We’ve seen the damage that they can do if they are not handled responsibly, so what is the best course of action?
On a household level, your local recycling centre should have facilities, or you may be able to find a collection point in some DIY shops or supermarkets. These centres will be able to handle the batteries safely and see that they get as fully recycled as possible.
On an industrial scale, you may want to consider seeking professional help – there are plenty of companies out there that are highly trained in disposing of hazardous waste, and they will be best placed to take care of this for you.
We offer several different services which may help you if you deal with lithium batteries. As well as offering hazardous disposal, we can be onsite within 24 hours if you discover a battery leak for a full hazardous chemical clean-up.
If you are unfortunate enough to experience a fire because of lithium batteries, we also provide fire damage cleaning, and are experienced in restoring a property to make it safe whilst salvaging as much as possible. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.