NWRA and RRS Release Report on Threat of Lithium Batteries to Waste and Recycling Infrastructure

NWRA and RRS Release Report on Threat of Lithium Batteries to Waste and Recycling Infrastructure

Arlington, VA – A new report from the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) and Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) estimates that more than 5,000 fires occur annually at recycling facilities. Materials recovery facilities (MRFs) process single stream recycling and, increasingly, these facilities experience catastrophic fires due to lithium-ion batteries erroneously placed by consumers in with their recyclables.

Every day, MRFs receive dozens of lithium-ion batteries due to public misconceptions about how to properly dispose of them. As lithium-ion battery usage grows, so will the risk of fires.

“Lithium-ion batteries are in more items than we might think,” said NWRA Interim President and CEO Jim Riley. “Besides recycling facilities, these batteries are a threat to the entire solid waste and recycling system, from collection to disposal, and impact our members every day. Given the risk they pose, it is important consumers understand that lithium-ion batteries should not be placed in their waste or recycling bins and should be disposed of properly through the right channels.”

The report also noted that the increased risk of MRF fires has driven up the cost to insure these facilities. The rate of catastrophic losses has risen by 41% over the last five years. As a result, insurance has increased from less than 20 cents per $100 insured property value to as much as $10 per $100 insured, as providers began to understand the threat to MRFs from fires, according to members of the insurance industry. The risk of fires and the cost to insure against them is expected to rise in the coming years as the use of lithium-ion batteries continues to grow exponentially.

“RRS surveyed a large portion of the industry, from integrated service providers to standalone companies.  What we found was that the reporting of fires depends on their severity, reporting requirements by the local response agencies, internal policies and local management practices,” said RRS Principal and Vice President Michael Timpane. “We also found that most MRF managers were measuring their fires frequency locally, regardless of whether they were reported internally or externally, and were getting better at fire detection and vigilance in their facilities. We were especially surprised that the number of fires per year was this high in the survey, though the majority of fires were small events.”


The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) represents the private sector waste and recycling services industry. Association members conduct business in all 50 states and include companies that manage waste, recycling and medical waste, equipment manufacturers and distributors, and a variety of other service providers. For more information about NWRA, please visit www.wasterecycling.org.

Brandon Wright
National Waste & Recycling Association

RRS is an internationally recognized sustainability and recycling consulting firm composed of strategists, engineers, economists, analysts and communications specialists with offices located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Boulder, Colorado. RRS deliberately works across the recovery and materials management supply chain developing sustainable solutions and systems to affect positive change. Clients include Fortune 50 companies, solid waste providers, materials recovery facility operators, advanced disposal solution providers, associations, end markets, municipalities and the wider government sectors. For more information about RRS, please visit www.recycle.com.

Michael Timpane