10 May 2024

Over 1,200 battery fires in bin lorries and waste sites across the UK in last year

A new “Stop Battery Fires campaign” from Recycle Your Electricals and the National Fire Chiefs Council is raising awareness of the importance of electricals and battery recycling as new research shows lithium-ion batteries thrown in household rubbish bins have led to over 1,200 fires in the waste system in the last 12 months, compared to 700 in 2022. A survey of local authorities across the UK has also found that 94% of them said that fires caused by batteries in the waste stream were an increasing challenge.  

  • Battery fires in bin lorries and at waste sites in the UK have reached an all time high – over 1,200 in the last year, an increase of 71% from 700 in 2022
  • 1.6bn batteries were thrown away in the last year, over 3,000 a minute – including over 1.1bn electricals containing hidden lithium-ion batteries
  • National Fire Chiefs Council says “fires involving lithium-ion batteries are a disaster waiting to happen”
  • Battery fires cause air pollution levels to spike in local areas, breaking WHO limits, affecting the health of local communities
  • Cost impact of battery waste fires could also be significant – Zurich UK has seen some insurance claims range up to £20 million 

With the steep rise in the number of portable electrical items containing lithium-ion batteries comes significant fire risk if they are binned instead of being recycled. With billions of electrical items now containing lithium-ion batteries, Phil Clark from the National Fire Chiefs Council said that: “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.”

Lithium-ion batteries are hidden inside many everyday household electricals, from laptops, mobile phones and tablets, to electric toothbrushes, vapes and earpods. These batteries can become crushed or damaged in bin lorries or waste sites if they aren’t recycled and can lead to fires at waste centres and in bin lorries across the UK. When crushed or damaged lIthium-ion batteries can be dangerous to the public, waste operators and firefighters as they cause fires that are especially challenging to tackle. They can lead to explosions and chemical exposure, but they create their own oxygen, which means they can keep reigniting, prolonging incidents with smoke and fumes affecting neighbouring areas and communities for long periods of time of up to a week.


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