Can You Throw Away Lithium-Ion Batteries?

Lithium Iron Dual Battery Configuration: Essential Information

Lithium-ion batteries cannot be disposed of with ordinary garbage.

Not in your recycle bin that is blue, either! I’ll explain why.

The Environmental Risk Presented by the Heavy Metals They Hold

Lithium-ion battery technology and its effects on the environment are subjects of some confusion.

Large electronics manufacturers frequently cite research indicating that lithium is among the least hazardous metals used in batteries, and to some extent, that is true. As always, though, you should proceed with caution when accepting those assertions.  When these batteries degrade, certain li-ion battery types include elements that, even in comparatively small amounts, can be extremely harmful.

And if that weren’t enough, lithium-ion batteries have the ability to ignite underground fires that can burn quietly for extended periods of time, releasing harmful compounds into the surrounding debris.

There could be big holes in the landfill caused by underground fires, which are hard to find. This may result in the landfill’s surface collapsing, burying combustible electrolytes even more beneath the surface.

Nonetheless, a startling 95% of lithium-ion batteries wind up in landfills!

Considering how simple it is to extract more than 90% of the cobalt and nickel from these batteries, none of this makes much sense.

Thankfully, safer, non-toxic, and more widely available minerals like phosphate or manganese oxide are taking the place of cobalt in several lithium-ion battery technologies.

Risks Associated with Discarding Lithium-Ion Batteries

When Destroyed or Broken, Toxic to Humans

Batteries can be poisonous even before they are bundled with kerbside trash, so we don’t even need to wait for them to wind up in a landfill.

The issue lies in the presence of matter-bound elements such as lead, copper, arsenic, chromium, cadmium, and cobalt in these particles. One dangerous gas that might escape from depleted lithium-ion batteries is hydrofluoric acid (HF). Inhalation or dermal penetration is two ways that HF, which is extremely caustic, might enter the human body. It enters the skin easily and settles in deeper layers, where it releases its harmful ingredients.

According to estimates, the electric car battery pack has the potential to release 20–200 mg of HF for every W. This easily exceeds the Immediate Danger to Life or Health (IDLH) standard set by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health by more than 80–800 times. Under no circumstances attempt to disassemble a lithium-ion battery!

Possible Risk of Fire

Lithium-ion batteries present a fire risk if handled or stored incorrectly, which makes appropriate disposal increasingly crucial.

At GreenCitizen, Lithium Polymer (LiPo)-based Apple products account for more than 95% of the exploding or bulging batteries we get.

A few of us are still aware of the recall involving the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, in which defective li-ion batteries were prone to overheating and blowing up.

Thermal runoff is the term for this phenomenon, in which a lithium cell essentially overheats, bulges, and burns.

The issue is not getting better on its own.

Because lithium-ion batteries are present in the trash stream, Veolia, a multinational waste processing company, has observed a 38% rise in fire accidents since 2017.

Small Li-ion batteries are estimated to have been the cause of roughly 250 fires in the UK’s waste treatment facilities between 2019 and 2020 by the Environmental Services Association.

According to the German Steel Recyclers Conference (BDSV), Li-ion batteries would be the cause of an astounding 90% of fires at its affiliated sites in 2020.

Still, how is this possible? A charged lithium cell will short circuit if it is crushed or punctured, which also results in thermal runoff that can trigger an explosion or fire. One of the biggest obstacles to the recycling of lithium-ion batteries is this. Since burning everything you wish to recycle is not the greatest way to recycle, you must do it securely.

Able to Pollute Groundwater

The most dangerous risk associated with landfilling is leachate. Rainwater percolating through the garbage and biological and chemical reactions produce leachate. Leachate has the ability to carry dangerous substances and organisms across great distances, contaminating solid surfaces and groundwater in the process. 

Lithium-ion leachates may contain dissolved gases like HF, HCl, or SO2, as well as contaminants such heavy metals, additives, and results of electrolyte degradation.

These substances alter the characteristics of groundwater in addition to being obviously harmful. Their acidification may affect both plants and animals and lower pH levels, much like “acid rain.”

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