ISRI has partnered with the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA), and the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) to issue a joint letter to the EPA citing best practices for safe recycling and labeling of lithium-ion batteries.
The letter is in response to the EPA’s request for information from stakeholders on battery collection best practices, battery labeling guidelines, and communication materials for battery producers and consumers. The agency issued the request following the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that requires the EPA to develop battery recycling best practices and battery labeling guidelines.
With their high-energy density and long lifecycle, lithium-ion batteries are an attractive choice to power electronics. Small lithium-ion batteries are found in cellphones and mobilization devices like scooters while large lithium-ion batteries are used to power the rapidly growing number of electric vehicles (EVs). However, lithium-ion batteries of all sizes pose serious fire risks and safety challenges for the public and the recycling industry.
“It is imperative that a clear path is delineated for the responsible recycling of batteries,” says ISRI President Robin Wiener.
These batteries often get discarded and improperly placed in curbside residential waste or recycling collection containers and bags. Once in the recycling or waste stream, lithium-ion batteries become fire risks as they get mixed with tons of materials and placed in hot temperatures under significant compression.
“SWANA is very concerned about the continued uptick in fires at recycling facilities and other disposal sites, often caused by lithium-ion batteries,” says David Biderman, SWANA executive director and CEO. “These fires threaten workers’ lives and operations at these facilities and undercut EPA’s ambitious National Recycling Strategy. We can’t recycle discarded items at a burnt-up MRF.”
While most of these fires are the result of mismanagement of consumer lithium-ion batteries, larger batteries in EVs also pose risks. The organizations recommended that the EPA develop best practices and labeling guidelines to include all sizes and chemistries. They advised the EPA should proceed with a parallel track for best practices and labeling of the larger lithium-ion batteries.
In addition to providing recommendations to best practices and labeling guidelines, the organizations also noted the need for a strong, ongoing public information campaign to alert consumers on how to properly dispose of all batteries. They advise that educational materials that can be adapted and used throughout the U.S. would help address the problem of handling end-of-life batteries.
“Our goal is to lower the risk of fires caused from lithium-ion batteries,” says Darrell Smith, NWRA president and CEO. “We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments. We believe our recommendations will help reduce fires caused by these batteries at our recycling facilities.”
The letter recommends making best practices on managing batteries widely available at collection sites. The information would include proper management and disposal of lithium-ion batteries, how to respond correctly in case of a fire, and how to manage a fire if one starts. They note that NWRA, ISRI, and SWANA have developed a “Guide for Developing Lithium Battery Management Practices at Materials Recovery Facilities.” This guide is specifically for MRFs but can be used as an example for best practices for collection facilities in general.
“By joining together to provide comments to the EPA, our organizations are offering solid solutions to minimize the risks of fire and injury that occur in recycling operations,” Wiener adds.
Photo courtesy of Tim Evanson on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Caption: Headquarters of the EPA at the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building.