There are a lot of good reasons to recycle your used electronics. Lithium-ion batteries in e-Waste is one of them.
Recycling helps protect our environment, lowers the cost of manufacturing new products, and enables the e-waste recycling industry to create jobs.
Low recycling rates for e-waste are a worldwide problem. It requires a global solution. We need to improve our recycling rates for e-waste.
But another reason to recycle e-waste is safety. Modern electronics contain circuit boards that smolder together various metals and plastics.
Some of these materials are toxic. We want to keep those toxins out of landfills, where they can contaminate the soil and water.
But safety is also a concern because the material in used electronics includes used batteries. That can be as problematic as toxins like lead and mercury. Although a rare occurrence, used batteries have been known to explode.
Having e-Waste handled by skilled recycling experts is a lot safer than tossing them in landfills – or leaving them in a desk drawer once you stop using them.
Why Are Lithium-ion Batteries in e-Waste a Potential Problem?
The good news: fire rates from mobile device batteries are both low — and rare. Statistically, as few as one out of every 3,000 mobile device batteries experiences a thermal reaction.
The bigger fear is that a discarded battery can spark other material that’s around it. That’s particularly true if you have scores of them bunched together in a landfill, where just one lithium-ion battery might ignite.
That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important not to throw battery-powered electronics into the trash bin.
One solution, obviously, would be to have fewer fancy new gadgets and an increased commitment to making older devices last longer. Right now, the trend is in the opposite direction. Electronics manufacturers rush to create new, more advanced versions of existing models.
Often times, the older devices are designed to stop operating after a certain period of time. That’s another (strong) incentive for consumers to buy the new ones.
So Why Do Some Batteries Ignite?
One reason is that lithium-ion battery powering electronics. While they contribute to making electronic devices slim and easy to recharge, there’s always a risk that the lithium-ion reacts negatively if the device gets crushed or punctured.
That can create a “thermal event,” since batteries short-circuit when the thin separator between their positive and negative parts gets breached.
Think of it as something containing a huge amount of energy in a compact package.
Because modern devices are designed to be slim, light, and sleek – which is what consumers appear to want – it’s problematic to cram a high-capacity cell into such a small body. If there isn’t enough venting or thermal management, the flammable electrolyte inside the battery can heat up.
Again, this is not to alarm anyone. More than a billion cell phones, laptops, and computers are used globally every day. Problems with batteries exploding are extremely rare.
And by comparison, the number of accidents has been small. There’s a low probability of your smartphone catching fire, and the failure rate of lithium-ion batteries is less than one in a million.
What Are Some Solutions to This?
Still, under the theory that even one fire is far too many, there needs to be a stronger dialogue on the problems tech companies create with their designs. While these companies know how to build electronics that can safely harbor a lithium-ion battery, the fact that these gadgets are designed to be thin and portable makes the batteries difficult to remove and contribute to the risk of a thermal event.
It does take a brain surgeon to figure out that there’s something wrong with how the device is being built.
These devices don’t need to be designed this way. In 2014, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 smartphone had a rechargeable battery that was easy to remove. Designing an electronic device so it can be repaired adds considerably to its life cycle impact.
That’s why so many in the recycling industry say it’s time to go back to removable batteries to make devices last longer, and to abandon the idea that all devices need to be super-thin.
And we also need a healthier dialogue about why recycling is so very important.
Why Is Recycling Important, and Safer?
Electronic waste still has a lot of value. Precious metals including lead, lithium, nickel, cadmium, and copper can be removed from the devices and reused to manufacture new products.
And recycling end-of-life electronics reduces the burden on landfills and will prevent leaching of hazardous compounds into the soil and groundwater. That poses a serious risk to our health and our environment.
And it’s also a safer alternative.
Lithium-ion batteries in e-Waste do have a line of defense against short-circuiting: a thin, porous slip of polypropylene that keeps the electrodes from touching.
But if that separator gets breached, the electrodes come in contact and can heat up very quickly.
We use them because lithium-ion batteries are highly efficient, offering a large amount of energy in a tiny package that can help keep a phone or laptop running all day.
Increasingly today, consumers are insisting on higher-capacity batteries in slimmer packages, at cheaper prices.
But we may also be paying a price when we decide we no longer want or need the device and toss it out as junk.
Recycling firms with years of experience, like Great Lakes Electronics Corporation, understand how to safely and expertly handle all devices, and remove the parts within e-Waste that still have value.
And having e-Waste recycled is a much safer, and environmentally cleaner, notion than turning them over to a landfill. That’s the main issue with lithium-ion batteries in e-Waste.
Environmentalists, government agencies and health care advocates have all been working diligently to raise awareness about the risks to the Earth’s resources from the growing amount of e-Waste.
They’re calling for a continued investment in a proven solution to e-Waste: recycling. It helps protect our environment and conserves our natural resources. And it’s the safest way to treat devices that contain potentially hazardous materials.
It’s a message we all need to keep repeating. It’s important for consumers and businesses to take their unwanted electronics to a proven recycling firm like Great Lakes Electronics Corporation.
Great Lakes Electronics Corporation has a great reputation for being trusted experts in the recycling and management of waste electronics and other metals. The unwanted equipment brought to Great Lakes Electronics Corporation is recycled in a responsible, environmentally conscious way, by this family-owned and operated business that prides itself as being environmental stewards.