July 17, 2023

EPA Provides Lithium Battery Guidance

Lithium batteries are used to power many different electronic devices like phones, electric vehicles, lawnmowers, e-scooters, etc. According to EPA, most lithium batteries would carry the waste codes D001 for ignitability and D003 for reactivity when discarded.

New EPA guidance reviews the options available within RCRA to manage lithium batteries and answers frequently asked questions on this topic. [RO 14957] Recycling methods are discussed extensively, specifically shredding lithium batteries into black matter as well as metal recovery methods. The most helpful portion of the guidance for generators is the frequently asked questions. Below are some of the questions and answers, focusing on universal waste management and recycling exclusions under RCRA.

Q: Does the universal waste program cover lithium batteries?

A: Yes. The definition of a battery in §273.9 is “any device consisting of one or more electrically connected electrochemical cells which is designed to receive, store, and deliver electric energy.” This definition is broad in scope and covers both rechargeable lithium-ion and single-use lithium primary batteries.

Q: What waste management activities do the universal waste regulations allow for handlers of batteries?

A: Universal waste handlers may sort batteries by type, mix batteries in one container, discharge batteries, regenerate used batteries, remove batteries from equipment, and remove the electrolyte from batteries. Lithium batteries may remain hazardous waste after being discharged because they contain ignitable solvents.

Q: May universal waste handlers shred batteries into black mass?

A: No. Under Part 273, universal waste handlers are not allowed to shred batteries; only destination facilities may do this.

Q: What is black mass?

A: Black mass is a filter-cake-like material generated from shredding lithium batteries. Black mass is not a universal waste and is no longer considered a battery.

Q: Is a lithium battery a solid waste when it is reused, repurposed, or repaired? Is it a solid waste when sent for evaluation for reuse, repurposing, or repair?

A: Batteries removed from one device that are legitimately reused in another would not be a solid waste per §261.2(e)(1)(ii). In guidance, EPA has stated repairing electronics before resale is not considered reclamation. [RO 14668] Therefore, electronics are not solid wastes when sent to resellers for reuse, repurposing, and/or repair. A battery being evaluated for use or reuse becomes a solid waste and potentially hazardous waste when the decision is made to discard the battery. Whoever makes that determination is the generator and must manage the battery under the universal waste program or as a fully regulated RCRA hazardous waste.

Q: Can a facility recycle lithium batteries under the definition of solid waste transfer-based exclusion in Sections 261.4(a)(24) and (25)?

A: Yes, lithium batteries may be recycled under the transfer-based exclusion in §§261.4(a)(24) and (25). The requirements for each exclusion must be met to claim the exclusion. Check with the state where the waste batteries are generated, the states through which the batteries will be transported, and the state where they are being reclaimed to verify which have adopted this exclusion.


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