Postal returns of waste portable batteries could be dangerous, according to the Department for Transport.
The DfT explained to MRW that most types of consumer batteries present no danger in transport but lithium and lithium ion batteries do. The Royal Mail flies a certain percentage of its mail internally across the mainland and the DfT says this could cause problems with postal take-back collections for batteries. This is because lithium batteries are banned under regulations monitored by the DfT.
DfT regulation and enforcement head Caroline Billingham told MRW: Lithium batteries are often found in cameras, computers and mobile phones and have been the cause of serious accidents due to the batteries shorting and starting fires that are very difficult to put out. That is why lithium batteries are classed as dangerous in transport.
The Batteries Directive requires the setting up of a system for distributors to provide free take-back of waste portable batteries. Regulations to implement the Directives requirements in the UK came into force on 5 May. The Environment Agency recognises that postal and courier take-back schemes will play an important part in the collection, recovery and recycling of waste portable batteries from commercial and domestic premises.
But there is a complete ban on transporting waste lithium batteries by aircraft and anyone doing this is guilty of an offence.
Billingham added: If the postal system were to be used, then Royal Mail would have to categorically assure the DfT that no lithium battery will find its way onto an aircraft. This isnt easy, as the public may not know what type of battery they are posting back and even if they did, there is no guarantee that lithium ones wouldnt go in the envelope along with other types.
Putting pictures or explicit clear wording on the outside of the envelope might help address this.
Billingham said that the Royal Mail and Dft were considering how a post-back system might operate for mainland Britain using road transport only. There are also issues around transporting waste batteries from islands such as the Channel Islands and from Northern Ireland to the mainland. The legislation covering the transport of dangerous goods by sea does not differentiate between new and waste batteries.