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Battery menace costs recyclers millions

The crippling cost of scrapyard fires caused by batteries is set out starkly in a Europe-wide survey of site operators. One-third of respondents reported a severe blaze in the past four years, costing an average EUR 1.3 million, with batteries identified as the cause in 75% of incidents.

The results of the survey of 109 operators indicate the problem occurs throughout the collection and treatment of e-scrap with a higher prevalence at the shredding stage during treatment and while it is being stored at the logistics and pre-treatment stages.

A report based on the survey, ‘Characterisation of fires caused by batteries in WEEE’, concludes: ‘Responses confirm that the number of fires in the WEEE management chain is growing. Both in the case of recurrent fires and of severe fires occurring at collection and treatment facilities, mixed WEEE is the most affected waste stream and damaged batteries are seen as responsible for those fires in the large majority of cases.’

Huge bills

The most severe fires are described as intense blazes lasting up to six hours and usually requiring the attending of emergency services. More than a third of the respondents report at least one of those severe fires since 2016 with a typical bill of EUR 1.3 million. The estimated average cost for more routine fires is put at EUR 190 000. Looking at less significant fires occurring on daily to weekly basis during 2018 as a typical year, more than half of the respondents (53%) reported incidents that were self-extinguished or controlled by onsite fire extinction measures. ‘The burden of this growing phenomenon is very heavy for the WEEE treatment chain,’ the authors say.
The report has been prepared by EuRIC (the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation) and the WEEE Forum (the international voice of e-scrap producer responsibility organisations) with support from co-signatories EERA (European Electronics Recyclers Association), EUCOBAT, Municipal Waste Europe and WEEELABEX.

‘Battery fires are one of the most important issue impacting recyclers currently,’ says Emmanuel Katrakis, secretary general at EuRIC. ‘This fact-based report confirms that fires occur at every stage of the collection and treatment of WEEE but we see a higher prevalence during treatment and at the logistics and pre-treatment stages during storage.’

Future action

A roundtable to discuss the report agreed on further investigation into the good practices and strategies implemented across the value chain. Measures for preventing and mitigating the effects of fires caused by e-scrap containing batteries will be set out in a subsequent report. The organisations involved in the study are also keen for an analysis of the consequences of the issues for the reuse sector and the international carriage of dangerous goods by road. And they want a detailed cost breakdown of damages caused by battery fires. The feasibility of an EU-wide observatory to record battery fires is also to be assessed.

Finally, although not the main part of the study, the authors comment on a lack of adequate insurance coverage which was mentioned several times within the survey.

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