Campaign launched to raise awareness of Li-ion battery waste fires

In collaboration with the fire and rescue services, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and Recycle Your Electricals have launched a new battery safety campaign for the public after new data shows that battery fires in bin lorries and waste sites have reached an “all-time high”.

Local authority research conducted by Material Focus shows that lithium-ion batteries thrown in household rubbish led to 1,200 fires in bin lorries and waste sites in the last 12 months, an increase of 71% since 2022. Further data from Opinium and YouGov suggests that 6 billion batteries were discarded in the past year, with 1.6 billion electricals and 449.9 million loose batteries binned, including 260 million vapes. The Opinium survey also found that nearly half of UK adults “did not know or hadn’t heard that electrical items containing chargeable built-in batteries can catch fire if crushed or damaged”.

In response to the collected data, the ‘Stop Battery Fires’ campaign has been launched to “educate and encourage” people to dispose of batteries and electrical products correctly, by raising awareness about the dangers of binning them and helping “people across the UK to understand how to recycle them safely”.

Phil Clark, Emerging Energy Technologies Lead for the NFCC said: “Fires involving the incorrect disposal of lithium-ion batteries are a disaster waiting to happen. Fire services are seeing an increasing number of incidents, but they are preventable by correctly and carefully disposing of electricals.”

In addition to the dangers these fires present, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the impact lithium-ion battery fires have on fire and rescue service resources, their environmental implications, and their ongoing impact on local communities.

Waste and Recycling Fires Lead for the NFCC, Mark Andrews added: “Fires involving waste have always been challenging, but lithium-ion batteries add significantly to this by creating unknown and unpredictable risks. These fires can be explosive and spread rapidly with the risk of reignition and toxic gasses a risk to firefighters. These incidents also tie up large numbers of finite fire service resources and firefighters to fully control and extinguish the fire creating further risks to the community.”

Professor Frank Kelly from the Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health at Imperial College London, explains:

Waste fires can cause significant spikes in air pollution. Our analysis of fires at waste sites in the very densely populated areas of Herne Hill and Brentford showed that they contributed to the local pollution burden, with the fire in Herne Hill clearly leading to exceedances in the WHO health-based guideline for PM2.5. This meant that thousands of residents in the area were affected, and rightly advised to close windows.

“The health impacts of waste fires, including respiratory issues, are of great concern, and we would advise residents to avoid opening windows at all costs while local air pollution concentrations are elevated and that everyone should wear a mask if they absolutely must venture outside while the fire is burning.”

Speaking about the financial costs of such fires, James Nicholson, Chief Claims Officer at Zurich UK added: “Lithium battery-related fires have become a real concern over recent years, as each year we’re seeing more and more, whether that’s in bin lorries or waste centres. Not only can they cause a considerable amount of damage – Zurich UK has seen some cases cost in the region of up to £20 million – but they can also cause a lot of upheaval while damage is repaired.”

Station Commander for Hertfordshire Fire Service, James Bull adds: “You only have to view live footage of a Li-ion battery fire to see the scarily rapid rate of development which makes these incidents particularly hazardous and volatile. They can take many fire service resources to tackle them and they are notoriously difficult to extinguish given that the flame heat release rate from a lithium-ion battery fire can be seven times more intense than a traditional flame.

More information about the safe recycling of lithium-ion batteries can be found here.

You can also view useful articles on lithium-ion batteries from the FPA’s special Li-ion issue of the Fire & Risk Management journal here.