29 April 2019 by Will Date

Merseyside pilot project to address Li-Ion battery fires

Merseyside residents taking small waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) items to HWRCs this summer will be asked to sort them into one of three bins, as part of a pilot project to tackle fires arising at WEEE recycling sites.

The initiative has been dubbed ‘SAFeRWEEE’ and is a collaboration between waste companies, Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority and Mersey Fire and Rescue Service. It is aimed at improving the handling of lithium ion batteries at the end of life.

Merseyside residents will be asked to sort small electrical items into one of three bins at HWRC sites and to remove batteries from items, in a bid to help reduce the risk of fires

The project is being financed through the WEEE producer compliance fee fund and was first detailed by letsrecycle.com earlier this month (see letsrecycle.com story).

Lithium ion batteries are widely found in consumer IT and electronics products. While accidents are rare when these batteries are used by consumers, handling at the end of life, particularly if the battery gets punctured during transport or processing, can lead to fires by igniting other combustible waste.

As a result, Li-Ion batteries have increasingly been linked to fires at waste sites in recent months – although no data has been gathered to prove the link.

Consortium

Partners in SAFeRWEEE include Axion Consulting, Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority, Viridor, Veolia, S Norton, Wastecare and Mersey Fire and Rescue Service. The project will aim to address the risk of fire by demonstrating an ‘effective, safe and commercially viable’ collection protocol for Li-Ion batteries collected within small WEEE.

Lithium ion batteries are commonly found in consumer electrical items

As part of the pilot project, which will be rolled out at three Merseyside HWRCs from this summer, householders will be asked to segregate WEEE into three streams: items not containing batteries; batteries removed from items; and, items where batteries cannot be removed.

Householders will be required to remove batteries from items before disposing of them, where possible.

By separating lithium ion batteries from products, the consortium hope that fire risks can be minimised and ensure that the batteries are correctly handled, treated and recycled – rather than posing a fire risk when passing through small WEEE processing equipment.

Trials

Trials will take place at the three HWRCs over the summer and results will be shared in December. It is hoped that the protocol could form the basis of a voluntary collection protocol for the country.

Commenting on the project Richard McKinlay, head of circular economy at Axion Group, said: “The risk of fire from handling lithium ion batteries is a huge challenge for the waste sector. Extracting the batteries at the recycling facility before processing would be incredibly challenging, and so this project aims to remove them altogether from the Small Mixed WEEE (SMW) stream.

“Not only should this reduce the risk of fire but also could lead to recovery of higher value material through improved householder engagement at waste and recycling centres.”


Richard McKinlay
Axion

Pat Gibbons, station manager – Community Fire Protection, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service, said: “Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service recognises the potential fire risks posed by the presence of lithium ion batteries in small mixed WEEE, and is a major issue facing the waste sector and Fire & Rescue Services today.

“Waste fires can have a devastating impact on businesses, they can see operational activity reduce dramatically, they can cause huge disruption to local residents and have a significant environmental impact.

“Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service therefore welcomes the SAFeRWEEE project in its aims to develop practical methods for reducing the likelihood and frequency of these waste fires and looks forward to supporting the project throughout its lifetime.”

Work is also ongoing within the wider waste industry to finalise guidance on good practice for the handling and disposal of lithium ion batteries – which is currently being reviewed by the Waste Industry Safety & Health – WISH – Forum.

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