Incorrect disposal of batteries has been blamed for the 2022 Boxing Day fire that engulfed around 80 per cent of the ReGroup Recycling Facility in Canberra. The investigation by ACT Fire and Rescue reports a ‘thermal runaway’ ignited the fire in the waste compactor, caused by lithium-ion batteries overheating.
Lithium is found in many household batteries such as non-rechargeable AA and AAA batteries, and in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in devices like laptops, mobile phones, and cameras. All types of batteries must be safely disposed of once they have reached their end of life to prevent fires and toxic materials entering the environment.
Batteries are hazardous items that should never be put in garbage or recycling bins. Dead batteries still retain some life, and when their electrical parts are rubbed together (from moving around in a garbage truck, for example) they can produce sparks that have the potential to ignite a fire. Lithium-ion batteries can also quickly overheat, sparking a chemical reaction and resulting in thermal runaway.
How to get rid of old batteries
While batteries should never be put in your household recycling bin, they can be recycled. In fact, batteries contain lots of valuable materials that can be used again to make new batteries and other products. They also contain toxic materials such as mercury and lead that must be disposed of responsibly.
Australia has a national recycling scheme for common household batteries, with drop-off points located across the country. The types of batteries accepted under the scheme include standard handheld batteries such as AA and AAA, rechargeable batteries, button batteries, and batteries in products that can be easily removed by the public such as power tools and digital cameras.
Other types of batteries have their own recycling schemes with designated collection points:
Lead acid batteries used in cars, motorcycles, boats, air conditioners, and emergency exit lights.
How to safely store batteries
If you would like to store your old batteries together so you can drop them off for recycling at the same time, there are a few steps you should follow to prevent the batteries from starting a fire.
Store batteries in a glass container that is not airtight (otherwise pressure can build up). Never store batteries in a metal container or with other metal objects.
Put tape over the parts of the batteries that produce electricity to prevent sparks. This would be at either end of standard AA batteries or on both sides of button batteries, for example. Use non-conductive tape like sticky tape, electrical tape, or duct tape. Keep the tape on the batteries when you drop them off for recycling.
Store the container in a cool, dry place away from heat sources like stoves.
Keep batteries away from children, especially small types like button batteries that can be easily swallowed.
Don’t store batteries for longer than 6 months.
Battery recycling for workplaces and businesses
Workplaces should have a system in place to safely store and recycle used batteries. Batteries 4 Planet Ark is an accredited recycling program for handheld batteries that provides a door-to-door service for businesses and workplaces located anywhere in Australia.
How to join the program:
Purchase a Batteries for Planet Ark recycling box, which will be posted to your workplace (the fee includes postage, collection, and recycling)
Use the easy instructions provided to set up the fire-proof box and let your staff know how to use it
When the box is full, contact us and we’ll collect it for recycling!