26 May 2020 by James Langley

WEEE fires caused by batteries ‘increasing’

The number of fires in the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) management chain caused by damaged batteries is increasing, according to a report prepared by EuRic and the WEEE Forum.

Published today and titled Characterisation of fires caused by batteries in WEEE, the report suggests that within the WEEE management chain there is a high prevalence of frequent yet small fires, with little or no severity.

Mixed WEEE is thought to be the waste stream most affected by battery fires

Mixed WEEE is thought to be the most affected waste stream, and damaged batteries considered responsible for those fires in most cases.

Emmanuel Katrakis is secretary general of EuRIC, a confederation of national and European recycling associations representing  the European recycling industries. He said: “Battery fires are one of the most important issue impacting recyclers currently.

“This fact-based report confirms that fires occur at every stage of the collection and treatment of WEEE, but we see a higher prevalence during treatment and at the logistics and pre-treatment stages during storage.”

The report is a summary of responses from a survey undertaken by 109 companies across Europe. It was produced with the contribution of experts from various organisations including EERA, EUCOBAT, Municipal Waste Europe and the WEEELABEX Organisation.

The report says the expected increase in the number of lithium ion batteries put on the market reinforces the need to implement effective prevention and mitigation measures.

Sector-led guidance was drafted to assist waste management companies in handling lithium ion batteries to prevent fires at waste sites in April 2019 (see letsrecycle.com story).

Severity

The report says the survey revealed fires in the WEEE management chain related to batteries have increased across Europe in the last two years.

“Battery fires are one of the most important issue impacting recyclers currently”

Emmanuel Katrakis, EuRic

More than half (53%) of the survey’s respondents reported frequently occurring fires on a daily to weekly basis that did not seem to cause significant damages and were self-extinguished or controlled with onsite fire extinction measures.

The average cost of all those incidents in 2018 was estimated at €190,0001, though many of the fires did not require insurance coverage.

The report suggests most severe fires in the last four years caused damage costing an average of €1.3 million.

More than a third of the respondents reported one of those severe fires, mostly described as intense and lasting between one and six hours. The intervention of a fire brigade was required in the most severe cases.

Pascal Leroy, director general of the WEEE Forum, said: “This report provides a set of facts and figures. It was extremely important to carry out that work collectively in a roundtable, gathering the most relevant representative organisations in order to develop a shared understanding of the issues of concern.”

Usfeul links

The full report can be seen here (PDF).

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