Business Recycling News

Safety tips for workplaces after investigation finds batteries caused fire at recycling plant

By Rachael Ridley 13 April 2023

An investigation has determined the cause of a recent fire at a recycling facility in Canberra was common household batteries. The ACT Government has used the opportunity to remind the public to keep batteries out of bins. Read on for tips on how to safely store and dispose of batteries.

Incorrect disposal of batteries has been blamed for the 2022 Boxing Day fire that engulfed around 80 per cent of the ReGroup Recycling Facility in Canberra. The investigation by ACT Fire and Rescue reports a ‘thermal runaway’ ignited the fire in the waste compactor, caused by lithium-ion batteries overheating.

Lithium is found in many household batteries such as non-rechargeable AA and AAA batteries, and in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in devices like laptops, mobile phones, and cameras. All types of batteries must be safely disposed of once they have reached their end of life to prevent fires and toxic materials entering the environment.  

Batteries are a hazardous item that should never be put in garbage or recycling bins. Dead batteries still retain some life, and when their electrical parts are rubbed together (from moving around in a garbage truck, for example) they can produce sparks that have the potential to ignite a fire. Lithium-ion batteries can also quickly overheat, sparking a chemical reaction and resulting in thermal runaway.

How to get rid of old batteries

Workplaces should have a system in place to safely store and recycle used batteries. They should never be put in recycling or garbage bins.

There are a few options available to businesses and workplaces. If the batteries can be safely stored, they can be recycled through a commercial recycling facility. Search Business Recycling’s free directory to find a recycler in your area for all kinds of batteries.

Batteries 4 Planet Ark is an accredited recycling program for handheld batteries that provides a door-to-door service for businesses and workplaces located anywhere in Australia. The program provides the business or workplace with a fire-proof box to ensure safe collection.

How to join the program:

  1. Purchase a Batteries for Planet Ark recycling box, which will be posted to your workplace (the fee includes postage, collection, and recycling)

  2. Use the easy instructions provided to set up the fire-proof box and let your staff know how to use it

  3. When the box is full, contact us and we’ll collect it for recycling.

Other types of batteries have their own recycling schemes with designated collection points and sometimes pick-up services for large quantities:

How to safely store batteries

If you do not have a fire-proof collection box, it is important to follow these steps to prevent fires:

  1. Store batteries in a glass container that is not airtight (otherwise pressure can build up). Never store batteries in a metal container or with other metal objects.

  2. Put tape over the parts of the batteries that produce electricity to prevent sparks. This would be at either end of standard AA batteries or on both sides of button batteries, for example. Use non-conductive tape like sticky tape, electrical tape, or duct tape. Keep the tape on the batteries when you drop them off for recycling.

  3. Store the container in a cool, dry place away from heat sources like stoves.

  4. Keep batteries away from children, especially small types like button batteries that can be easily swallowed.

  5. Don’t store batteries for longer than 6 months.

Rachael Ridley
Rachael manages the Business Recycling and Recycling Near You websites. Rachael joined Planet Ark in early 2019 after eight years working in media and publishing as a producer, editor, and writer. Rachael loves using her skills in content creation and communication to instigate positive environmental behaviour change. Outside of work, Rachael enjoys spending time in nature, listening to music, and patting dogs.