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How Lithium Batteries May Effect the Future of WEEE

Posted by Clarion Safety Systems | 17th Aug 2021

Short for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, the WEEE Directive (2012/19/EU) was originally established in 2002. A number of minor revisions have been made since then, and since August 15, 2018, all electrical and electronic equipment are covered by the directive, including equipment used by consumers (B2C) and professional use (B2B). It requires producers of electrical and electronic equipment who sell their products in the EU to operate a recycling program. Its purpose is to better protect the health and sustainability of the environment by informing users that certain devices may contain harmful contaminants (which can adversely affect plants and animals if improperly disposed) including:

  • Temperature exchange equipment, like fridges and air-conditioning units
  • Screens, monitors, and equipment containing screens having a surface greater than 100 cm squared
  • Lamps and lighting equipment
  • Large equipment (more than 50 cm), such as washing machines, rooftop solar panels
  • Small equipment (less than 50 cm), like vacuum cleaners, smoke detectors, clocks, and watches
  • Small IT and telecommunications equipment (less than 50 cm)
  • Automatic dispensers, such as ones for beverages and money
  • Medical devices like dialysis machines, medical freezers, and cardiology equipment
  • Consumer equipment like radios, televisions, musical instruments, and camcorders
  • Electrical tools, such as drills, saws, and mowing equipment

Obviously, this is an enormous range of goods that spans across thousands of manufacturers, although there is one area of WEEE products that are starting to become a major concern, as they inherently make up almost all of these products, and that is batteries.

Batteries: The Electronic Waste Red Zone
Our daily lives would be unthinkable without the help of batteries: and over 1.2 million tons of batteries are imported into the EU annually – including 800,000 tons of vehicle batteries.

Old electrical devices are a potential danger for humans and the environment. EEE and batteries contain toxic substances – pollutants. The good news is, if electronic scrap and used batteries are sorted and disposed of properly, the negative effects can be reduced while, at the same time, retrieving raw materials for the production industry. The bad news is that we have not yet reached this stage, and negative outcomes are still happening within the WEEE battery disposal sector.

A newly released report outlines “Recommendations for Tackling Fires Caused by Lithium Batteries in WEEE” related to the frequency and intensity of fires caused by electronic devices in recycling facilities and all phases of the products’ lifestyle.

Compiled by the WEEE Forum, EuRIC, EUCOBAT, EERA, MWE and the WEEELABEX Organization, it covers all aspects of the lithium battery lifecycle.

"The report concludes that there is not a magic formula that will eradicate the risk of fires caused by WEEE containing batteries," says the WEEE Forum. "It is imperative that actions are taken urgently in all steps of the lifecycles of EEE and lithium batteries and by all actors in the value chain: from design to disposal of WEEE and batteries including the consideration of transport and treatment. For this, further work to assess the extent of the issue and potential solutions is required."

Every Stage is Important
In recent years, lithium-ion batteries have gained popularity on account of their energy density, longevity, and light-weight design. The demand for lithium batteries is set to rise and is estimated to reach a value of $92.2 billion dollars by 2024, with market growth expected to accelerate in accordance with the adoption of disruptive technologies such as electric vehicles and smart grid storage.

Disposal of these lithium batteries can be complex and expensive due to their hybrid composition, leading to their dumping on landfills. As these batteries contain a flammable electrolyte that can result in fire or even explosions if they are punctured, damaged, or heated, their disposal within common household waste is not feasible.

This has resulted in trade organizations representing the full scope of home appliance manufacturers as well as electronic waste collection and treatment services to come together to discuss measures to curb their outbreak.

Guidelines proposed are targeted towards policy makers, local entities and collective schemes by stakeholders within the WEEE as well as battery sector. They include recommendations to improve battery identification, removability, protection, handling, and storage, as well as improvements in design, collection, logistics, pre-treatment, and post-treatment.

Optimizing Labeling by Design
In the design phase, the report recommends a wide range of labeling improvements, including greater label communication that a product contains a battery and details about the battery type, design changes to ease battery removability, battery redesign to increase the use of flame retardants and other in-battery safety measures, and more. Their recommendations for the future of EEE containing batteries include labeling aimed at:

Informing users – and particularly end users – on the content of LBs and whether the battery in their device is a removable or a built-in one (sometimes this information can be found in manuals, EEE/Battery and/or packaging labelling, campaigns, etc.) Informing users on the potential hazards and correct handling of the WEEE containing batteries Informing waste operators of the type of batteries contained in WEEE and include a website link should they need more information Informing waste operators about the removability of the batteries In case the battery is a built in one, to inform waste operators what type of adhesive has been used (soluble or not) In case the battery is removable, informing waste operators whether they need special tools for its removal Informing waste operators about the lithium battery chemistry. Constant technological development resulted in a plethora of lithium batteries which contain different chemistries. These batteries should not be mixed during the recycling process as this could have effects on the efficiency and sustainability of the treatment of batteries, Informing waste operators on all battery levels. Batteries are comprised of several layers which may require different or multiple treatments Introduction of color coding depending on the battery types

Professionals in Labeling and Compliance
Clear, regulation-compliant labels like WEEE and RoHS can help manufacturers and users avoid both liability and danger. Clarion Safety stays up to date with the latest changes in best practice labeling, even region specific ones like WEEE. As electronic goods and batteries continue to increase in production, keep us in mind and reach out for your future labeling and consulting needs.

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