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Call for WEEE segregation to combat battery fires

Waste industry companies have joined forces with emergency services in an attempt to cut the number of fires at recycling sites caused by discarded lithium ion batteries.

The WEEE Fund – financed by the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) compliance fee – will support work by waste operators and the fire service to improve handling of batteries at the end of life following a spate of fires at recycling sites.

Lithium ion batteries have been blamed for blazes at Viridor sites in Chichester and St Helens in the past two months alone.

Once discarded, the batteries can cause fires if they are punctured, and can be hard to detect when left in waste items.

Axion Consulting, Viridor, Veolia, S Norton, Wastecare and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service will collaborate to demonstrate what they expect to be an effective, safe and commercially viable collection protocol.

Householders will be asked to segregate small mixed WEEE into items not containing batteries, those from which batteries have been removed and items where batteries cannot be removed.

By separating lithium ion batteries from products, the scheme hopes to show that fire risks can be minimised while the batteries are correctly handled, treated and recycled.

Trials will take place at three household waste recycling centres during the summer and results will be shared in December.

Richard McKinlay, head of circular economy at Axion Group, said: “The risk of fire from handling lithium ion batteries is a huge challenge for the waste sector.

“Extracting such batteries at the recycling facility before processing would be incredibly challenging, so this project aims to remove them altogether from the small mixed WEEE stream. Not only should this reduce the risk of fire but it also could lead to recovery of higher value material through improved householder engagement at waste and recycling centres.”

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