Battery fires in UK waste systems spike, highlighting recycling urgency

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UK sees dramatic rise in battery fires, says NFCC

Battery fires in bin lorries and at waste disposal sites across the UK have surged to an unprecedented level, with over 1,200 incidents recorded in the last year, marking a 71% increase from the previous year’s 700 incidents.

This rise coincides with the disposal of 6 billion batteries, including 1.1 billion electrical items containing lithium-ion batteries, as reported by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).

The NFCC has described these fires involving lithium-ion batteries as “a disaster waiting to happen,” emphasizing the severe risks and challenges posed to public safety and environmental health.

Impact and challenges

The frequency of battery fires has led to significant air pollution, often breaching World Health Organization limits and impacting the health of local communities.

These fires not only pose environmental hazards but also come with substantial financial costs, with some insurance claims reported by Zurich UK reaching up to £20 million.

The fires, often caused by the incorrect disposal of batteries, present unique challenges to fire services due to their unpredictable and explosive nature, which can prolong incidents and tie up essential resources.

Campaign and community response

In response to the escalating issue, the “Stop Battery Fires” campaign, launched by Recycle Your Electricals and the NFCC, aims to raise awareness about the importance of proper electrical and battery recycling.

The campaign highlights the dangers posed by lithium-ion batteries when disposed of improperly, including the risk of explosions and prolonged fires that can significantly affect nearby communities.

According to new research conducted by Opinium for Recycle Your Electricals, a vast majority of UK adults are unaware of the risks associated with disposing of electrical items that contain chargeable batteries.

Expert opinions and solutions

Phil Clark, Emerging Energy Technologies Lead for the NFCC, emphasized the preventability of these incidents through proper disposal practices: “Fires involving the incorrect disposal of lithium-ion batteries are preventable tragedies.

“Fire services are increasingly encountering these incidents, which are avoidable through proper recycling of electricals.”

Additionally, Scott Butler, Executive Director of Recycle Your Electricals, called on the public to never dispose of batteries and electricals in household bins and to use designated recycling points instead.

IFSJ Comment

The increase in battery fires across the UK is a critical issue that highlights the need for heightened public awareness and improved waste management practices.

The collaboration between the NFCC and Recycle Your Electricals through the “Stop Battery Fires” campaign is a positive step towards mitigating this problem.

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