Batteries and cells can present a danger during shipment depending on the type of chemistry, the level of charge, and the level of mishandling. Some batteries are classed as dangerous or hazardous goods and under the New Zealand Land Transport Rule: Dangerous Goods 2005 there are special requirements for shipping them via road, rail, and sea. The batteries mentioned in the Rule are generally wet cells or specialised types.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) have developed a set of stringent policies with respect to batteries, especially relating to lithium based cells. Contact us or your shipping company for advice.
Preparation for shipment by battery type
There are a number of battery types (chemistries) on the market and they have differing characteristics in terms of safety during shipping.
Shipping the batteries in the manufacturers packaging, if available, and in a discharged state is the best option. Failing this, batteries should be protected from damage and prevented from being shorted. Lithium based batteries especially should be protected from damage and from being shorted since they are able to deliver currents capable of causing fires.
Carrier companies may have their own requirements in preparing batteries for shipment. This is sometimes based on the IATA policies.
The following information is what Ecotech Services would consider a minimum requirement for road, rail, and coastal shipping. Additional measures would further reduce and human health and safety issues, and environmental degradation but with diminishing effectiveness.
NOTE: The data in this table is not for air freight. Shipping requirements for air freight are more stringent than those listed here.
|Type||Human health and safety||Environmental impact||Suggested packaging method|
|Alkaline/Zinc/Dry cell||No danger to human health and safety. Some danger if they are leaking.||Minimal environmental impact||Can be loosely packaged whether leaking or not.|
|NiMH||Present no dangers.||Minimal environmental impact||Battery packs do not need any protection when packed with those of a similar physical design. Cells that have tags with a length that is grater than the radius of the cell should have the tags removed, be individually wrapped in plastic, or have the terminals taped.|
|NiCd||As per NiMH.||Cadmium (Cd) is a heavy metal that has impact on the environment.||As per NiMH.|
|Lithium metal||Present no dangers unless it is in a damaged state or it is dismantled. Lithium metal is highly reactive.||Probably low.|
|Li-ion batteries||Present no danger if it have not been dismantled and has a non-flexible housing.||Probably low.||Li-ion batteries (as opposed to individual cells) generally have recessed terminals as well as output over current control and protection making them safe for transportation. The exception is batteries that are recalled that have a high likelihood of causing a fire. Can be loosely packaged.|
|Li-ion cells||Danger of fire if subjected to damage. Present no danger if discharged or in a damaged state.||Probably low.||Must be wrapped in a manner that prevents them from damage while in transit. At least one layer of bubble wrap per cell should be sufficient.|
|LiPo batteries||As per Li-ion batteries but a non-flexible housing may not be present.||Probably low.|
|LiPO cells||As per Li-ion cells.||Probably low.|
|Gel cell/VRLA||No danger unless split open due to mishandling.||Lead (Pb) is a heavy metal that has impact on the environment.||Prevent the terminals from being shorted in transit by coving then in PVC tape (electrical tape).|
|Lead acid||Possible danger of acid spills if mishandled and the degree of spillage depends on whether it is zero maintenance or if it has removable caps for maintenance use.||Lead (Pb) is a heavy metal that has impact on the environment.||Keep upright and prevent the terminals from being shorted in transit.|
|Button cells||Danger to health if swallowed. Keep out of reach of children.||Probably low, except for mercury cells but these are no longer sold.||Can be loosely packaged but it is preferable that the larger lithium cells are either placed in a metal canister, or they are prevented from being shorted used plastic film or adhesive tape. Place in a suitable plastic bag to prevent them from falling out of the package.|
Courier, freighting, and shipping company policies
- Courierit – depends on the carrier used.
- CouirerPost – batteries and appliances containing batteries are prohibited.
- DHL – batteries are transported but conditions apply.
- Fastway – no explicit mention of batteries in their conditions of carriage but they have stated that they do not transport batteries.
- Fedex – batteries are transported but conditions apply. They give specific instructions for how to package lithium batteries for shipping.
- NZ Couriers – not to exceed 5 kg and lithium based batteries require pre-approval.
- New Zealand Post – batteries are prohibited unless they are with equipment and are not lithium metal types.
- Post Haste – no explicit mention of batteries in their conditions of carriage.
- UPS – batteries are transported but special requirements may be stipulated for lithium metal types.
This list is incomplete. If you wish to have your company listed here please contact us.
- Battery safety at the Ecotech Services knowledge base
Transporting dangerous goods safely: an industry guide (2008) Wellington, N.Z.: Ministry of Transport
- Lithium battery guidance document from the IATA
NZS 5433.1:2012 Transport of dangerous goods on land
Last updated: February 8, 2017 at 8:31 am