ESA – Consumers urged to join fight against ‘Zombie Batteries’ in bid to tackle recycling and waste fires

Consumers across the UK are today (Monday 26 October) being urged to “join the fight
against Zombie batteries” in a bid to tackle the growing number of fires caused by dead
batteries which have been thrown away carelessly.

Today, the new national Take Charge campaign, jointly founded the UK’s largest recycling and
waste management companies, urges consumers to only recycle dead batteries using
specialist battery recycling services, and to never throw batteries away alongside general
rubbish or other recycling.

Dead batteries thrown away with other waste and recycling, which the campaign refers to as
“zombie batteries”, are likely to be crushed or punctured once the waste is collected and
processed. Some battery types in particular, like lithium-ion (Li-ion) and nickel-metal Hydride
(NiMH), can ignite or even explode when they’re damaged. Once this happens, the batteries
can set fire to other materials present in the waste, like paper, leading to serious incidents in
some cases that can put lives at risk.

Although safe to use normally, lithium-ion batteries are most prone to cause fires or
explosions if they are not recycled properly. These batteries are most often found in products
like laptops, tablets, mobile phones, radio-controlled toys, Bluetooth devices, shavers,
electric toothbrushes, power tools, scooters and even e-cigarettes.

The recycling and waste management trade body, the Environmental Services Association
(ESA), which launched the campaign, conducts an annual survey of its members to record the
proportion of fires occurring at recycling and waste facilities that are known or thought to
have been started by lithium-ion batteries in particular.

Data released for the first time today, for the period between April 2019 to March 2020,
shows that the proportion of all fires reported at ESA members’ recycling and waste facilities
suspected to be caused by lithium-ion batteries alone rose from around a quarter of all fires
to more than a third (38%) year on year – equating to around 250 fires started by a li-ion
battery during the twelve-month period.

In many cases, however, the precise cause of a fire is never established, so it is likely that
batteries are responsible for an even greater proportion of fires at facilities operated by both the private and public sector.

 

Members of the ESA hope that by encouraging the public to recycle batteries responsibly, it
will reduce the number of “zombie batteries” present in general waste and recycling, thereby
reducing the number of fires in future.

Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Jacob Hayler said:
“Unfortunately, the majority of batteries thrown away in the UK at the moment are not
recycled properly. Fires caused by carelessly discarded batteries endanger lives; cause
millions of pounds of damage and disrupt waste services. We urge consumers to please
recycle batteries responsibly by using battery recycling points in shops and recycling centres,
or a separate battery kerbside collection if available.”

Take Charge is backed by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and supported by a wide
range of local councils across the UK.

Mark Andrews, NFCC Waste Fires Lead and Assistant Chief Fire Officer of East Sussex Fire
and Rescue Service, said: “Batteries in household waste and recycling can lead to large scale
and protracted fires. These incidents are often very challenging for fire services to deal with
and can cause significant disruption to communities. “Many people may not realise the
importance of the correct disposal of batteries so this simple advice can make a real
difference in preventing waste fires”

Consumers can find out where to recycle batteries responsibly in their area, and more about
the dangers of Zombie Batteries, by visiting the campaign website at www.takecharge.org.uk

ENDS
Notes to editors

For media enquiries, please contact Ben Johnson at b-johnson@esauk.org or by phone on
07966 304330. We would be happy to make a spokesperson available for interviews and will
endeavour to facilitate filming requests at ESA members’ facilities across the UK as required.
About the campaign

The Take Charge+ Campaign was established in October 2020 and is managed by the
Environmental Services Association (ESA). It is sponsored by the ESA and the battery
compliance scheme, European Recycling Platform (ERP).

To find out more about the Take Charge campaign, and see a full list of supporters, please
visit www.takecharge.org.uk

 

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