Addressing the Spike in UK Battery Fires: Why Has the Public Taken Two Steps Back in Battery Recycling Efforts?

Posted on 21st September, 2023

Addressing the spike in UK battery fires

In recent years, we have all been witness to a concerning increase in UK battery fires, posing significant risks to public safety and the environment. These fires are often ignited during the disposal and recycling of batteries, which contain hazardous materials like lithium-ion.

This increase has now accelerated sharply, with local authorities across the UK now reporting battery-related fires at their recycling centres and waste facilities on an almost monthly basis. These fires not only endanger workers but also release toxic fumes into the atmosphere contributing to hazardous air pollution. Additionally, the financial burden of extinguishing these fires and addressing their aftermath falls on local communities and taxpayers.


Can we pinpoint the UK battery fire issue?

As a provider of recycling solutions, this dramatic increase in battery fires combined with increased media coverage has become a pressing discussion within Wastecare. We know recycling accessibility is not a barrier, with us as a company alone providing over 30,000 battery collection points nationwide. In addition, the ability to manage increased recycling would also not pose an issue, with our battery processing facility in Halifax offering a capacity capable of recycling 100% of the UK’s used portable batteries. Therefore, we know that it’s not because the means to recycle batteries aren’t there ­­- the British public simply doesn’t feel incentivised to carry it out.

With millions of portable batteries on the UK market, analysing the attitudes towards batteries themselves may expose the root of the problem. Batteries are an easy commodity to come by in your local supermarket or electronics retailer, with a range of price points making them accessible to a majority. In regards to the disposal of these, statistics show that the average person in the UK will throw away 10 portable batteries a year. Our assumption, therefore, is that if one individual is throwing less than one portable battery away a month it may not feel like a pressing issue to recycle them – due to the infrequent habit of having to do it. However, the cumulative impact of this action on a yearly basis equates to over 600 million batteries.

What’s more, the knock-on effect of low recycling volumes continues to impact the battery producers themselves. With revised battery regulations expected in 2024/25, if the current levels of recycling are maintained the UK is unlikely to meet its battery recycling targets – significantly impacting obligations costs for compliant producers.


So how can we influence public behaviour?

Motivating a habit change – Consumer-facing businesses manufacturing or distributing portable batteries have a responsibility to provide incentives to recycle them. Point-of-sale call-to-actions are often relied upon to remind consumers to recycle, however, the ability to provide further education via digital platforms should not be overlooked. Campaigns such as Material Focus’ ‘Hypnocat’, are brilliant examples of using positive and engaging social media messaging to emphasise the dangers of not recycling WEEE. With large platforms with a high reach across the UK, major retailers have a responsibility to use these social platforms to provide education on recycling initiatives and support their consumers on how and where they can access collection points.

Looking within the workplace – Although digital campaigns have a place and can have significant reach, the power of education drives within the workplace shouldn’t be underestimated. With companies and offices nationwide containing hundreds of thousands of portable battery consumers – implementing internal communications on recycling along with convenient collection solutions within local areas can be a valuable addition to aiding consumer consciousness. This can have a two-fold impact – managing the usage of WEEE products using portable batteries in the workplace, whilst encouraging employees to utilise collection points to recycle their own household batteries.

Local authorities reporting fires – The unfortunate inevitability is that battery-related fires are unlikely to slow down until recycling rates rise significantly. By reporting fires occurring in local authorities’ recycling facilities and waste centres, this key trend data is key to getting public attention on how serious the problem has become.



Ultimately, all those who play a role in the life cycle of portable batteries have a responsibility to educate and support the wider UK population on battery recycling. This will require a cohesive and joint-up approach, as we know one consistent message is far more effective than a confusing narrative of conflicting instructions.

From our standpoint, it is about emphasising the impact of battery fires in a way that resonates with the majority of consumers whilst aiding convenient and easy collection – resulting in a culture change making battery recycling as habitual as putting out your household waste black bin. Imminent pan-industry schemes are set to be implemented, however, large retailers serving much of the UK population also have a responsibility to harness the platforms they have to influence battery consumer habits.