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FEATURES & INVESTIGATIONS FEATURES & INVESTIGATIONS

LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES

The problem OLD PRODUCTS LAPTOP TABLET

with cordless 50% keep old leads and


chargers as spares when
they replace a product.
65% own one and 60%
still have their old one.
Two thirds (62%) have
one; half of those (49%)
have more than one.

appliances
48% kept an old product
after replacing it.

They are handy and popular but all have lithium-ion


batteries, which are hard to recycle. Are we storing up MOBILE PHONE
the next environmental disaster, asks Sarah Ingrams CORDLESS VACUUM
84% have a mobile phone,
making it the most 33% own one, of whom 35%

Y
commonly owned device. have replaced the battery.
ou can probably put your before they’ve come to the end of their 74% have more than one.
hand on a device that has useful lives. And, as this investigation 56% replaced theirs in
a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery has found, lithium-ion batteries the past two years.
right now. They’re with themselves could be contributing to 86% upgraded when their
you from morning in your electric significant environmental damage. old phone still worked.
toothbrush, to noon in your laptop and Li-ion batteries are the force behind
vacuum cleaner, until night, when you powerful cordless products. They’re
set an alarm on your mobile phone. lightweight for the amount of power
There are, on average, 11 Li-on devices they contain, making them superior
in every household of Which? members to their lead-acid and nickel-cadmium
who responded to our survey. If that predecessors. But the UK has neither
was reproduced in every household, the raw materials to manufacture
that would mean 295m in the UK. them, nor the facilities to recycle them.
For some products, Li-ion batteries The Global Battery Alliance predicts
provide unarguable benefits; people that globally by 2030 we will have
find them more convenient and easier generated 11m tonnes of spent Li-ion CORDLESS DIGITAL CAMERA
to use. And what would be the point batteries. The more we can recycle DRILL
of a mobile phone that always needed these, the less we need to extract raw 65% own one. 86% bought
to be plugged in? materials for new battery production 49% have one – it’s a new one when the old
But it would be dangerous to assume and the less likely that they will end the most-owned one still worked.
that rechargeable products are always up in landfill. Lithium-ion DIY tool.
better than corded devices. In terms The UK is the second-biggest market
of environmental impact, some Li-ion in Europe for Li-ion batteries, after ELECTRIC
products may do more harm than Germany. By weight, they account TOOTHBRUSH
good. Do we really need batteries for 20 to 25% of all batteries on the Owned by 56%, 17%
for appliances we only use around the market in Europe and, according to threw their old one in
house, where mains electricity is an estimate by the European Portable the bin. Don’t – recycle it!
simply available on demand? Battery Association, their share E-CIGARETTE
Also, rechargeable batteries are ‘quadrupled’ from 2004 to 2015. By ELECTRIC SHAVER 3% have one, of
sealed into some appliances, which 2024, the global Li-ion battery market AND BEARD whom 43% replaced
means that when the battery fails, could be worth as much as £60.4bn. TRIMMER it in the past year.
the entire thing becomes defunct. Our survey showed that 48% of Li-on ELECTRIC CAR
Plus, we routinely replace products devices are retained by owners once 35% replaced one of these
in the past two years. Owned by just 6%, this is the
most likely product to be
replaced while still working.

If we all lived like the average


The average electric car battery
could still have 70% capacity

Which? member in our survey, HOW MANY LITHIUM- left after a decade’s use.

that’s a total of 295m lithium-ion ION BATTERIES

ILLUSTRATION: MUTI
batteries in UK households DO YOU OWN? * To find out how many Li-ion batteries you have –
and where your old ones end up – we surveyed
5,081 Which? Connect members in May 2018.

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FEATURES & INVESTIGATIONS FEATURES & INVESTIGATIONS
LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES

Cordless they have bought a replacement


model and are not recycled. Even more
current recycling processes are
inefficient, and ‘consume material in
DISPOSAL OF LITHIUM-ION
DISPOSURE OF OUR OUR LI-ION BATTERIES
BATTERIES What should I do
appliances and worryingly, 10% end up in the bin and
risk going to landfill.
the process of recycling,’ explains Dr
Gavin Harper, of the University of Used council facilities to recycle it 39% with my lithium-
lithium-ion As they degrade, Li-ion batteries can Birmingham’s Centre for Strategic Gave it to someone else 18%
ion batteries?
batteries be a fire and explosion risk. Lithium
itself is a highly reactive alkali and if
Elements and Critical Materials.
Currently, recycling processes
Put it in the general waste bin
Took it back to the shop or manufacturer 6%
10%

the unit short-circuits, it can cause a recover between 38% and 60% of Gave it to charity 4% If you have a box of old phones under
Cordless products are increasingly fire. This short-circuiting can happen a lithium-ion battery – mostly its metal Gave it to another organisation to recycle 3% the bed, a tablet with a cracked screen
popular, and Dyson plans to stop through exposure to water or – as in components – according to battery Sold it to a company to sell on 2% in a drawer, or an old digital camera
developing plug-in vacuums. We the case of the headline-grabbing collection and recycling specialist Sold it online myself 2% in the loft, now’s the time to dispose
test hundreds of cordless products Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – through G&P Batteries. In contrast, up to 95% of them correctly. Don’t put them in
Don’t know or can’t remember 15%
a year and have found that many are overheating. When Li-ion batteries of a traditional lead-acid battery can be the bin (as 5% of you have admitted to).
0% 10% 20% 30% 40%
more convenient and easier to use end up in landfill, chemicals can also recycled. But there is progress: Spanish Instead, find the best option depending
than corded equivalents. leach into soil and groundwater. specialist Envirobat is developing Based on an online survey of 3,444 Which? members in May 2018, who had disposed of a device with a Li-ion battery. on their state of disrepair:
But in choosing a cordless product, The production of these batteries a process that it claims recovers more ■ No longer used but in good condition
are you choosing ease over durability? also comes at an environmental and than 80% of the lithium and cobalt Perhaps you upgrade your mobile
Our 2018 reliability survey found social cost. There are few lithium from batteries, while in the UK the Some compliance schemes’ data give diverts batteries from landfill. The phone annually and keep old ones that
that, overall, cordless vacs are almost mines in the world, and its extraction government-funded Faraday Battery an idea. G&P Batteries collected more average electric car battery could still work, or your children have outgrown
as reliable as corded. However, is linked to water pollution, depleting Challenge is working on ways to reuse than 300 tonnes of Li-ion batteries in have 70% of its capacity left after a their remote-controlled toys. Consider
cordless vacuums typically have a water supplies and soil damage. Toxic and recycle. 2017, which has grown ‘significantly’ decade’s use, according to Bloomberg, giving them to friends or family, using
two-year warranty – such as Dyson’s chemicals used in processing can One of the ‘biggest challenges’ for from previous years, says Tom Seward, and several car manufacturers are an online service such as Freecycle to
top-of-the-range cordless Dyson be harmful when released. recycling is collecting batteries in the its commercial director. But he suspects reusing them for home energy storage. give or swap them, or donating them
Cyclone V10 Animal (£450) – while Cobalt, which is also vital for Li-ion first place, says Dr Harper. Consumers that the amount collected is far short Last year, the UK government set to charity (British Heart Foundation
Dyson’s corded Light Ball Animal batteries, is produced at scale by just need to dispose of them correctly (see of that put on the market, as exported up the Faraday Battery Challenge with has dedicated electricals shops). You
Upright Bagless (£219) is guaranteed a handful of mines. Around two thirds p29) so raw materials can be recovered. appliances might be dismantled and £246m to develop new technologies, can sell working electricals online (eg
for five years. of the world’s cobalt comes from the There are no recycling facilities recycled overseas instead. including ‘increasing recyclability’ and Ebay), or on the high street (eg CEX)
Dyson’s Li-ion batteries are Democratic Republic of Congo, where in the UK for Li-ion batteries. The examining the potential to reuse Li-ion if you’re keen to make some cash.
replaceable (although you’ll need mines often rely on subsistence Environment Agency told us it doesn’t Where are they recycled? electric vehicle batteries. Birmingham Make sure you run a factory reset and
to buy them through a third party) workers, including child labourers, have figures to show how many of the Many UK Li-ion batteries are recycled University is leading a three-year encrypt your data before you give away
and it collects customers’ old vacs according to Amnesty International. UK’s Li-ion batteries are recycled in Europe, and some in the US and project to improve efficiency and or recycle your device.
to recycle. Bosch advertises that because they are exported for recycling. South Korea (see map, left). But two economics of recycling and reuse. ■ Broken product
you can easily swap the batteries Recycling the UK’s There are also no specific recycling in five Li-ion battery recyclers are It aims to develop technology to If your item is beyond repair, or it’s
between its Unlimited vacuum rechargeable batteries targets or figures for Li-on batteries, in China, according to a 2018 study ‘remove a whole battery from an a personal care product that would
cleaner and power tools. It’s important for consumers to dispose as the EU regulations underpinning by Circular Energy Storage. It said: electric vehicle and reprocess it’. be unhygienic to rehome (such as a
You can also replace Li-ion of batteries correctly, but that doesn’t UK law were created 10 years ago ‘limited recycling of Li-ion batteries in In the UK we’ve fallen in love with shaver), make sure it gets recycled.
batteries in some Morphy guarantee they will be recycled. Some when they were in their infancy. Europe and North America has little to cordless products. But there’s still If you’re replacing a large appliance,
Richards, Samsung and do with lack of technology.’ Instead, it a long way to go before we’ll be able ask the shop to dispose of your old
Shark vacuum cleaners. blames policies that ‘don’t acknowledge to manufacture, reuse and recycle one. Otherwise, take it to your local
But if you choose to buy the reuse value in batteries’. rechargeable batteries sustainably. council’s household recycling facilities.
a more budget-friendly WHERE ARE OUR BATTERIES GOING? Until then, it’s worth considering ■ Spent small Li-ion batteries
model, the lithium battery Future of recycling which cordless products we can’t (including those from remote controls,
is likely to be built into Germany Sweden There is huge potential for reuse and do without, and which have an phones or toothbrushes)
a sealed unit. This means
Canada Finland recycling of Li-ion batteries, which the environmental impact that outweighs Take these to your local supermarket
that when the battery UK is not currently harnessing, despite the benefits. And, once your or shop. Any retailer that sells more
fails, you’ll have to a growing enthusiasm for cordless rechargeable electricals reach than 32kg (around 245 packs of AAs)
replace the entire electricals. Recycling develops a the end of their lives, it’s important per year must provide collection
product. Seven in Belgium secondary market for raw materials, to dispose of them correctly to ensure facilities. Some local councils also offer
ten people (71%) reduces reliance on imports, and they can be reused and recycled. a kerbside collection.
said they’d consider France
whether the battery
was replaceable
when choosing Spain
USA
a new vacuum. THE BOTTOM LINE FIND OUT MORE at which.co.uk/ our lives’, Nov 2017, p18
● ‘What’s going on with your
The UK has a long way to go to catch up with rechargeable-batteries
Switzerland South Korea/ On which.co.uk ● Know when you can use recycling?’, June 2017, p44
The Republic lithium-ion battery recycling capability in Europe. ● See the most reliable a manufacturer’s warranty
of Korea You can reduce pressure for new raw materials, and mobile phones, according or guarantee – go to Other useful contacts
contribute to a circular economy, by making sure to our owner survey, at which.co.uk/warranties ● Find your nearest battery
which.co.uk/ collection facility at
Based on information your unwanted lithium-ion batteries are reused or Recent articles recyclenow.com/
from the Environment reliablemobiles
Agency, G&P Batteries
recycled, not hoarded at home, and considering ● Best and worst AA and in Which? what-to-do-with/
and Valpak. whether you really need a cordless product. AAA rechargeable batteries ● ‘60 products that changed batteries-1

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