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Can a battery become a source of fire? – How to dispose of batteries safely and cleanly

Can an old battery really start to burn? How and where can I dispose of my old batteries? And why should we never dispose of batteries in household waste? You can learn all this in the article.

Batteries and rechargeable batteries help us through everyday life. They make it possible to use devices in a mobile way and independently of the power grid. But: Batteries can become a great danger for people and the environment – if they are not disposed of properly.

Current battery volumes and recycling rates in Germany

In 2019, 55,905 t of portable batteries were placed on the market in Germany. Compared to the previous year, this was an increase of 3,746 t or 7.2%. Germany achieved the EU minimum targets. The collection volume was increased by 17.2% compared to the previous year (Source: Umweltbundesamt). To illustrate the EU minimum recycling targets, a figure is used in which the average recycling efficiencies determined are compared with the minimum targets (see figure 1).

Figure 1

How your old battery can become a danger?

It is, quite literally, incendiary how many of us dispose of our old batteries. A lithium battery in residual waste can quickly become the cause of a fire in a truck, in containers or in recycling facilities.

But how? If lithium batteries are disposed of in the residual waste, they can ignite even with the slightest friction. Especially in summer, when the outside temperature rises, the risk of fire is particularly high. Even in your own four walls, if batteries are stored incorrectly, a fire cannot be ruled out.

Another problem: The waste of resources. If batteries are not disposed of properly, a large amount of valuable raw materials such as cobalt, aluminum or lithium is lost from the cycle. “This is a waste of valuable raw materials that we clearly can no longer afford.” Many people do not know where a battery is installed and how to dispose of it properly. We want to change that now:

How to dispose of an old battery?

One thing is for sure: A battery does not belong in the household waste or in nature under any circumstances.

Moreover, one must take into account: Batteries are in many things where you might not expect them, e.g. in blinking children’s shoes. Here it would be important to inform yourself and also dispose of these “devices” properly.

The so-called portable batteries from watches, laptops, remote controls, radios, etc. that accumulate in private households can be returned free of charge to the collection points at retailers and the recycling centers of the municipalities. Car batteries and industrial batteries should also be returned to the available collection points, e.g. at retailers.

And do not worry: if batteries are handled properly, they do not pose any danger!

A few more tips from us

Tip from the editorial team: If you are unsure how to dispose of certain items correctly, the waste guide may help you. The “Waste Guidebook” is an initiative of the Bavarian State Office for the Environment and the State Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection. Click here and we will forward you directly.

By the way, we have been committed to the proper and environmentally friendly disposal of waste electrical equipment for many years. In this interview, project manager Christine Gering reveals how we make e-waste disposal simple, safe and professional. Just click here.