Single-use lithium ion batteries are found in many devices, including cellphones, laptops, and cameras. Once these devices have reached the end of their lifespan, most consumers throw them away with their regular trash. Yet, failure to take proper care when disposing of batteries presents serious risks. In fact, even certain storage practices are hazardous. Here’s what you should know about handling these batteries safely.
The Risks of Improper Storage & Disposal of Lithium Ion Batteries
Discarding batteries along with the rest of your trash can cause jostling or punctures. This can provoke a state called thermal runaway, during which an area in the battery cell achieves an elevated temperature. The heat triggers a decomposition of the cell material, resulting in self-heating and an uncontrollable rise in temperature. As a result, stability is lost, setting off an explosive process.
Improperly discarded batteries are believed to be the root cause of fires across many waste facilities. Even if thermal runaway doesn’t take place, there are other hazards to consider. For instance, if lithium batteries come into contact with other metals at a precise angle, it can cause sparks—which is why proper storage is so critical. Moreover, lithium ion batteries can release hydrogen or static electricity over time, which can also contribute to explosions while being stored.
How to Handle & Dispose of Lithium Ion Batteries Safely
Fortunately, there are preventive measures available to minimize the risk of battery-related fires and explosions. Here are a few safety tactics to implement.
Perhaps you’re in an industry that uses lithium ion batteries, or maybe you’re simply storing end-of-life devices until they can be disposed of properly. While it may seem convenient to have all of your batteries or unwanted electronics in one location, they should never be kept directly next to each other, and especially not physically touching. Don’t store them within the vicinity of any metal objects. Keep your batteries in a well-ventilated area at or below room temperature (20-22° C). Ideally, they should also be kept in an environment with a relative humidity of roughly 50%; extreme temperatures or humidity could change their molecular structure.
One of the primary reasons batteries wind up in landfills is because they’re embedded within devices, making it cumbersome for users to extract and handle them without the proper tools and techniques. For convenience and compliance purposes, it makes sense to enlist the help of a trusted electronics recycler to dispose of your batteries properly.
Quantum’s downstream processors work within the framework of the Resource Productivity & Recovery Authority (RPRA), confirming compliance with the batteries regulation. During this labor-intensive process, electronics with batteries are inspected and hazards are mitigated. Battery terminals are taped with non-conductive materials such as packing, duct, or electrical tape to prevent sparks. They are then placed in a lined container to prevent contact with terminals and sent to a downstream vendor for end-of-life recycling.
If you’re a consumer looking to get rid of your unwanted electronics, you can find your nearest Quantum drop-off location here. Items from collection sites are picked up daily to minimize any risks of batteries interacting. Businesses can partner with Quantum to properly manage all of their devices with lithium-ion batteries to promote safe practices and ensure compliance—learn more about our recycling solutions.