UK recyclers launch campaign to combat 'zombie battery' fires at waste plants

by John Shepherd
A campaign to highlight dangers from the careless disposal of "zombie batteries” has been launched by UK recycling and waste management companies.

According to figures from recycling and waste management trade body, the Environmental Services Association (ESA), fires suspected of being caused by lithium-ion batteries at its members’ recycling and waste facilities increased by 38% year-on-year between April 2019 and March 2020 – "equating to around 250 fires started by a li-ion battery during the 12-month period”.

"In many cases, however, the precise cause of a fire is never established, so it is likely that batteries are responsible for an even greater proportion of fires at facilities operated by both the private and public sector,” the ESA said.

The national Take Charge campaign launched today, jointly founded by recyclers and waste management firms, urges consumers to only recycle dead batteries using specialist battery recycling services. The campaign is backed by the National Fire Chiefs Council and local councils.


Some battery types in particular, like lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride, "can ignite or even explode when they’re damaged”, the ESA said.

"Although safe to use normally, lithium-ion batteries are most prone to cause fires or explosions if they are not recycled properly. These batteries are most often found in products like laptops, tablets, mobile phones, radio-controlled toys, Bluetooth devices, shavers, electric toothbrushes, power tools, scooters and even e-cigarettes.”

The ESA said the current recycling rate is around 45% of all batteries placed on the market – meaning that 55% are not currently recycled properly.