Lithium ion batteries are one of the most popular types of rechargeable batteries in use, as they provide more energy than other types and are more effective at holding a charge. However, with the growing trend in disposable electronics, lithium ion batteries have become more and more prevalent in e-waste. They are used in cell phones, laptops, power tools, and other rechargeable electronic devices. This prevalence raises the question: how do we properly and safely dispose of lithium ion batteries? Let’s explore some of the challenges.
Like many components in modern electronics, lithium ion batteries contain toxic materials that are hazardous to the environment and the health of people. Just throwing them away in the normal trash rather than seeking out an e-recycling solution risks the materials seeping through the landfill into the groundwater and contaminating the environment.
Highly Reactive, Highly Flammable
Already a highly reactive element, the construction of these batteries requires lithium to be combined with a flammable electrolyte and then pressurized. Improper disposal or prolonged exposure to heat can cause these batteries to burst into flame. This can be especially dangerous if the battery ends up in the back of a recycling truck.
Poor Collection Systems, High Demand
With an increasing demand for rechargeable batteries and sustainable energy solutions, there is a huge demand for the various components used in creating these batteries, which includes lithium. However, the demand cannot be met by current recycling capacity, and there is a desperate need to increase the reach and scope of private and commercial electronics recycling programs. Until companies and individuals have easy access to such programs, lithium ion batteries from e-waste will continue to be improperly disposed of, and their raw resources irretrievable.
Demand issues are exacerbated by the fact that an estimated 60% of lithium ion batteries from electric vehicles properly recovered will be reused in utility-scale solutions before possibly being recycled, even further limiting the amount of materials being recovered by commercial e-recycling programs.
Mixed Messaging in Recycling
Culturally, we have the best of intentions when it comes to recycling – we understand at a fundamental level that we must do better at reusing and recovering raw materials from disposed products in order to create sustainable solutions and supply lines across multiple industries. However, we don’t do a great job at educating consumers and companies about how to properly recycle items. Simply labeling an electronic device as recyclable, without providing any guidance as to the proper methods for adhering to e-waste disposal standards, leaves many thinking that it’s enough to simply toss electronic devices into the recycling bin next to the dumpster. Nothing can be further from the truth, as single stream recycling doesn’t sort out electronics and e-waste discarded this way poses all of the risks discussed above.
Innovation Deterring Manufacturers from Commercial Recycling
Due to changes in how lithium ion batteries are being produced, it’s becoming less profitable for manufacturers to turn to recycling as a way to acquire raw materials, as it’s cheaper for them to mine new materials. The demand issues discussed previously make this approach a short-sighted and unsustainable one. Battery manufacturers are working to develop material recovery processes that make recovering the other raw materials in lithium ion batteries worth the cost of recycling in order to incentivize recycling.
Focused on Sustainable Recycling Solutions
1 Green Planet offers commercial electronics recycling with the goal of generating 0% waste and 0% landfill impact. We provide small businesses and commercial entities in Washington with access to our robust e-waste disposal program, which includes various types of batteries. Have a need? Contact our team today to request a pick-up or drop off your e-waste and we’ll take care of it for free.