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Lithium batteries come in all shapes and sizes from the rechargeable tool batteries, to car batteries, and even tiny flat button batteries. Lithium batteries need to be treated with particular care, in that a number of external and internal causes can cause them to short, cause a fire, and even explode. So each and every lithium battery, even the small ones, need to be treated like they hold the potential to fail. With the increase of button batteries in everything from remote controls, key fobs, decorations, toys, and more we thought it was important to discuss the importance of these small batteries that can have their own unique hazards.

Picture of a very small lithium button battery being pinched between a thumb and index finger to show how little it is.

The big problem with small batteries

According to multiple sources including U.S. poison control and some of our country’s leading medical centers, one big problem with such a small battery is the potential for small children to swallow them. Not only could certain size lithium batteries provide a choking hazard, but they are also dangerous when they’re inside the human body. When stuck, lithium batteries can damage the esophagus and even burn through it in a matter of hours. Pets can also accidentally ingest button batteries where the same life-threatening damage can occur. So a good rule is to keep batteries out of the reach of small children and pets, especially these lithium button batteries.

Picture of a row of lithium button batteries properly taped. Lithium button batteries should always be taped to safely store or prepare them for recycling if original packaging is unavailable.

Tape them when storing them and when disposing of them

If you’ve lost or discarded the batteries original packaging, this is the most important precaution to take with lithium button batteries. Tape your batteries. We tell our generators all the time to tape terminals, tape terminals, tape terminals. Button batteries are no different. Whether you are trying to safely store them, or you are sending spent batteries to be recycled, they need to be taped with non-conductive tape or stored in their original packaging. Taping them also prevents the risk of a child or pet potentially swallowing the battery. Lithium batteries are not like alkaline batteries in that If you keep different size button batteries together they will react with one another. Larger button batteries will overload smaller ones and cause them to bulge and burst. Anytime a lithium battery does this, it not only creates a situation you need to carefully clean up, but it releases some heat, and the more batteries together, the more likelihood, this can cause a fire. So tape your batteries when you store them and when they go out to be recycled.

A picture of two overloaded lithium button batteries. One had exploded exposing its contents.

Do not put batteries in metal containers

This seems like a no brainer, but you would be surprised how many people will try to put batteries, large and small in metal containers. Although there are some safe storage options according to 49 CFR, it is far easier to just make sure that your battery waste is stored in plastic. 5 gallon pails are great for small quantities, and usually more than enough for storing button batteries. There are also other sizes for larger quantity batteries like 30 gallons.

A picture of some of the common sizes of lithium button batteries. NLR recycles lithium button batteries, other batteries, and other types of universal wastes.

Try not to mix chemistries.

Lithium button batteries can react with different size button batteries, and they can also react with other battery chemistries. The bigger the battery the easier it will overload a button battery and cause it to burst. Again you should minimize the risks of battery shorts by keeping your chemistries in separate containers and taping your lithium button batteries.

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