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Lithium-ion batteries have been offering effective added value for several years now. With high energy density, low weight, and a comparatively long service life, these batteries have become popular energy storage devices in a wide range of applications spanning from mobile devices to electric vehicles.

While incredibly effective, lithium-ion batteries do contain certain raw materials that can be potentially harmful to the planet. For this reason, the proper disposal of lithium-ion batteries and the recycling of their components is incredibly important. In our guide, you can learn more on lithium-ion battery disposal regulations, potential hazards to look out for and what needs to be considered when it comes to effective disposal and recycling.

Lithium-ion battery disposal: hazards to watch out for

There are several reasons why lithium-ion batteries should not simply be disposed of with household waste or with other operational waste. One of the most important reasons being safety: the lithium contained inside these batteries is very reactive — especially when in contact with water or when the ambient temperature is too high.

If water penetrates a lithium-ion battery that has not been disposed of in accordance with government regulations, or if a thermal runway occurs due to overheating, the result is a lithium fire that is extremely difficult to extinguish. In the process, the fluorine- and phosphorus-containing conductive compounds of the batteries can release gaseous toxins. These pose a danger to humans, animals, and the environment. For this reason, disposal regulations for lithium-ion batteries must be strictly adhered to. This is true, not only for disposal but also for the storage of lithium-ion batteries.

Who is responsible for the disposal and recycling of lithium-ion batteries?

Lithium-ion batteries can be disposed of in collection boxes at retailers where electronic devices are sold, at recycling centres, or at the take-back points of the manufacturers themselves.

Additionally, batteries can also be disposed of in boxes provided for this purpose or at local waste management companies. The website, RecycleNow, provides general information on the disposal of batteries for those living in the UK; however, for detailed disposal regulations on lithium batteries, it is best to contact your local council.

In the UK, distributors and retailers that sell or supply more than 32kg of batteries per year must participate in the take-back scheme. This means they must provide a free collection point for batteries at their premises.

For businesses working with batteries on an industrial scale, it might be worthwhile to consider working directly with one of the many specialist recycling and disposal centres operating across the UK. They may be able to negotiate an agreement with you when it comes to disposal and recycling processes.

Please note: It is not safe to send damaged lithium-ion batteries for disposal by post. If you think a battery might be damaged, consider bringing it to a processing centre directly. Signs of damage include overheating, leaking battery fluid or expansion/inflation of the battery.

Disposing of lithium-ion batteries of different sizes

Lithium-ion batteries weighing less than 500 grams

Lithium-ion batteries weighing under 500 grams can usually be found in standard smartphones and other small electronic devices (smartphone batteries typically weigh about 100-120 grams). Before disposing of lithium-ion batteries weighing less than 500 grams, tape over the terminals to prevent a short circuit, then pack the batteries in a plastic bag and return them to the retailer or manufacturer for disposal.

Lithium-ion batteries weighing more than 500 grams

Special regulations should be considered for the disposal of lithium-ion batteries with a unit weight of over 500 grams. These batteries can usually be found in electric bicycles, storage modules for photovoltaic systems or in our lithium-ion pallet trucks. Lithium-ion batteries of this size are considered hazardous goods, which is why additional safety regulations apply here for disposal and transport.

It is recommended that you contact any of the waste management centres located in the UK which specialise in Li-ion battery disposal and recycling. The company will usually provide you with a specialist waste container with wrapping in which you can safely store lithium-ion batteries until they are ready for collection.

Permanently installed lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries weighing less than 500 grams can often be permanently installed within devices. Consumers are not obliged to remove permanently installed batteries themselves, and defective mobile devices or tools that have a permanently installed battery should be handed over to the manufacturer or dealer directly or by post. The manufacturer is then obliged to dispose of the lithium-ion battery in accordance with regulations.

Why should you consider recycling lithium-ion batteries?

A second reason to dispose of lithium-ion batteries properly is that they can then be sent for recycling. Recycling Li-ion batteries allows valuable raw materials to be recovered, however, it is a complex process that remains a technological challenge. There are many reasons for this:

  • Many different raw materials are interconnected in rechargeable batteries.
  • The structure of lithium-ion batteries differs depending on the manufacturer, device and model.
  • As a result, uniform, automated recycling processes are rarely possible and battery disassembly is usually done by hand.

Every cell of a lithium-ion battery is made up of four components, each of which can contain different materials.

ComponentPossible materials
Positive ElectrodeLithium + Cobalt
Lithium + Manganese
Lithium + Iron
Lithium + Nickel + Cobalt + Aluminium
Lithium + Nickel + Manganese + Cobalt
Negative ElectrodeGraphite
Lithium + Titanium
ElectrolyteVarious dissolved lithium salts
SeparatorVarious porous polymers

Most valuable metals are found in the electrodes of Li-ion cells. Recovering these raw materials is possible, but not easy, as they occur in chemical compounds and form units in a very small space. This makes for a complex and expensive recovery process. Nevertheless, the recycling of lithium-ion batteries and accumulators is important in terms of environmental protection and resource conservation.

In contrast, the situation is different for the other components of a lithium-ion battery, such as steel and plastic casings and cables, which are usually made of copper. These can already be easily recycled.

FAQs on lithium-ion battery disposal

Where can I dispose of lithium-ion batteries?

Manufacturers and most retailers are obliged to take back used and defective batteries and rechargeable batteries by offering either a collection point on their premises or the option to send the batteries by post. Further collection points can usually be found at recycling centres. Some private lithium-ion battery recycling centres also offer home or business collection.

What should you do if a battery is permanently fixed to a device?

If a lithium-ion battery is permanently installed in a device, the battery cannot be changed and the device itself must be disposed of. It is recommended not to try and remove the battery yourself, but rather to bring the device to your local collection point or recycling centre for disposal. The manufacturer or retailer of the device is also obliged to provide a take-back service for the item and battery.

What do I have to pay attention to when disposing of the battery in small devices such as smartphones?

When disposing of small Li-ion batteries weighing less than 500 grams, you should cover the the two terminals on the battery with tape to prevent them from short-circuiting. Pack the battery in a plastic bag before handing it over to the manufacturer, retailer or recycling centre.

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© – coffeekai