Poison Apples 3: Uptick in Lithium Battery Fires & GPS Ewaste Tracking Devices

Our company sends about 30% of the used electronics we receive to "big shred"... companies that invested in labor-saving mechanical shredders with eddy-current-separators, magnets, optic sorters, etc., to turn things like printers (notoriously low reuse value because the dollars are in the ink cartridges, not the device) into streams of raw material.

Those shredding companies are our friends.

We offer to take back stuff they can't shred responsibly - like display devices.  Ideally, we'd be taking back, ton-for-ton, the 30% stuff that should be hand-managed, like CRTs and LCDs, Plasmas, OLEDs, etc, for every ton of shreddable e-waste we send.

Our friends at the shredders have a problem. One friend, ECS of California, went out of business this year. I've known the owner, Jim Taggart, since my Massachusetts DEP days in the 1990s. He was not the first "big shred" investor to get sucked  under.

This video doesn't show you any specifics about why, but it does show a big, big problem for Big Shred.  It features our old pal Scott Pelly of CBS 60 Minutes (the guy who impugned our geek pals based on Jim Puckett ewaste statistic "fakenews").

Here is Brian Williams of NBC on the same lithium spontaneous fire battery topic...

This one is my favorite, because it's so simple. Exposing the charged lithium to oxygen, or water, is all that's required to initiate a disaster.

So if I had sent the GPS, with its Lithium Battery supplied by Basel Action Network, to my friends at the Big Shred company (who fund BAN), it would have been shredded and exposed to oxygen and might have started one of the plant fires that put so many e-waste shredders out of business.

If the GPS tracker's lithium battery had caught fire at the shredder, then perhaps the only ethical thing to do was to send it overseas for reuse or parts recovery?

And that's the only thing that would be good for BAN, too. If it went to their funder and started a fire, it would disprove their allegation that my company was exporting printers, and would have caused damage to their funding partner (my friend who I hope sends us back non-shreddable displays) as well.

So if BAN knew what kind of device (printer) was in our warehouse, they had to notify their downstream shredders. I have evidence they did so, an email that keeps popping up in my Salesforce tracker, of our printer scrap shipments being cancelled by the Big Shred pal while the device was in our facility.

So we have sent about 95% of our printers during the past 5 years to shredders.  The last exception, when we sent one to a company that does export good ones, was when our shredder friend (and financial donor to BAN) suddenly stopped receiving our printer scrap, for about 2 months. BAN knew where the device was, and received financial payment from Big Shred, and must have known the risk of battery fires if their "poison apple printer" went where it was scheduled to go.

After the GPS tracking device, with its dangerous lithium battery, was gone from our site, Big Shred accepted our printers again.

And I have a lot more evidence than this that some communication was afoot. Perhaps BAN warned
Big Shred about the GPS device in order to avert a battery fire. Perhaps BAN placed the GPS device in a $350 ebay closed auction high end printer, rather than one we automatically send for scrap, in order to avoid that outcome.

This blog is aimed at actual researchers, actual people who dig deep. It's not a "top five sexy reasons" blog. If you don't see the problem here, you didn't reach the end of this sentence.

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