Battery Fires threaten all recycling

Battery fires are an existential threat to our waste and recycling management system. Fire and Rescue Services attended more than 1,000 battery fires across Australia last year, but we understand many more occurred in the waste and recycling sector that Fire and Rescue Services didn’t attend.

This is a huge worry as a single battery fire is capable of destroying an entire recycling or waste management facility, as occurred in Canberra on Boxing Day 2022. But it’s not just the fire and explosion risk, once a thermal runaway event commences, toxic fumes are released, creating an additional environmental and human health hazard.

The next state and federal Environment Ministers meeting is scheduled for this Friday, 21 June 2024 and needs to tackle this problem of end of life batteries as a matter of urgency.

These days, batteries can be embedded in everything from kids shoes, toys, vapes, e-bikes and even items of clothing. The current voluntary stewardship scheme (B-cycle) does not cover damaged batteries, EVs, home storage or batteries embedded in other items.  This financial year, it looks like they missed more than 80% of the limited battery types they were targeting. Those missed batteries could be causing harm in homes, workplaces, or our waste and recycling streams.

The Federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water previously indicated that a proposal to regulate batteries would be presented at this meeting. TEC is calling on all state and federal Environment Ministers to urgently develop a mandatory regulated stewardship scheme covering all forms of batteries, including EVs and embedded batteries, and a national landfill ban to help mitigate the risk from these hazardous products.

Battery fires in the recycling and waste management system represent a huge risk to workers and the environment. The cost to repair damaged infrastructure can be crippling and adds significant delays to the much needed recycling. Consumers need access to safe forms of disposal for all batteries, and that’s something the current voluntary scheme can’t deliver. Read our plan to solve the battery crisis here. 

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