As many of you will already know, in 2013 new regulations were introduced to control international air shipments of batteries and as of January 2015, these regulations were tightened by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and some further rules were brought into place under the Dangerous Goods Regulations.
And these rules aren’t just applicable to stand-alone batteries, but also to the lithium ion batteries commonly used in mobile phones, cameras, computers and other such electronics.
So if you deal with these products or have any plans to deal with these products, you need to be aware of all the rules and regulations in regards to shipping these batteries, both internationally and domestically.
Why Are These Regulations Even Being Introduced?
Firstly I want to very quickly go over why these rules are being brought into place at all and the reason for it is actually very simple – though most people are unaware of the fact, lithium ion batteries are actually very dangerous and are prone to shorting, overheating and catching fire.
Therefore, it is incredibly important that they are sealed and transported in the correct way.
I won’t go into all the explanations and reasoning behind this, as it’s not really necessary for us to understand/know about that, but of course if you are interested in reading more about this, there are countless news stories that you can find online that delve into it further.
But for our purposes, let’s see how these rules and regulations affect the import of batteries.
Importing Batteries Into the UK
Importing batteries from China to the UK is very difficult (and expensive) with all the new regulations in place. Depending on who you’re using for the shipment (courier vs air freight vs sea freight) and the specifics of what you’re importing, you may even have to agree a specific contract if your shipment is classified as containing “dangerous goods”.
As I said, this depends a lot on the specifics of exactly what you’re importing and if the batteries are already contained in equipment (this is considered safer and the rules are slightly more lenient).
UPS have an incredibly useful flowchart which you can go through in order to determine whether your shipment requires a Dangerous Goods contract:
As I briefly mentioned above, the danger when shipping lithium batteries is if they short-circuit so most of the packaging and shipment rules are designed to ensure that doesn’t happen. These rules include:
- Ensuring no batteries can come into contact with each other.
- Ensuring no battery can come into contact with a conductive or metal surface.
- Ensuring all batteries are securely packaged to prevent shifting during transport, which can cause loosening of terminal caps or inadvertent activation.
IATA recommends each battery is packaged in individual inner packaging made of non-conductive material, i.e. plastic, and then packaged into an overall box / overpack.
Further to the flowchart produced by UPS, DHL also have some useful information on the regulations and what additional requirements they involve (including labelling, import forms etc.):
As the importer, you are solely and wholly responsible for the shipment so if anything goes wrong – it’s on you.
I don’t want to be blunt but that’s the crux of it and you need to be aware of that.
I would recommend you speak to your courier or freight forwarding company before you start planning any orders and make sure everything is manageable and within the regulations. Please don’t go solely by what a supplier tells you as we all know they can be slightly deceitful in order to close a deal!
Sending Batteries Within the UK
Now that we’ve gone through importing batteries, it’s time to deal with shipping them within the UK!
Here are the rules for posting lithium ion/polymer batteries that are contained in or connected to an electronic device, taken from Royal Mail themselves:
- Each package must contain no more than 4 cells or 2 batteries contained in equipment.
- The maximum net quantity of cells or batteries contained in one package is 5kg.
- The watt-hour rating must not exceed 20Wh per cell or 100Wh per battery.
- Each cell and battery must be of a type proven to meet the requirements of each test in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, section 38.3.
- Cells and batteries must be manufactured under a quality management programme as specified in the ICAO’s Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air.
- Cells or batteries that are defective or broken are forbidden.
- Cells and batteries must be protected against short-circuit.
- The equipment containing cells or batteries must be packed in strong rigid packaging and must be secured against movement within the outer packaging.
- The sender’s name and return address must be clearly visible on the outer packaging.
Now I know this may feel quite daunting when you first read over this list, but a lot of it won’t be applicable if you’re simply selling regular consumer goods (smartphones, DSLRs etc). It is pretty basic packaging guidelines and basically you just have to make sure that the device itself is off and there is no possibility for inadvertent activation, that everything is packed securely and rigidly and finally that your name and return address are clearly visible on the outer packaging.
Simple really! And as long as you’re aware of these rules and follow them, you won’t run into any problems.
The only times I’ve heard of when the post office has refused a parcel for containing batteries is because the sender didn’t know about the regulations and didn’t follow the packaging guidelines.
Just a quick note while we’re on the subject – when they ask you whether the package you’re sending contains any batteries, please don’t say no if it does! That’s the worst possible thing you can do!
Sending Batteries via Courier?
You may be wondering about couriers and how their rules differ from Royal Mail for sending batteries? Well really the answer is that – it depends!
Unfortunately I can’t give one answer here as there are a number of courier companies and they all have different rules in regards to sending batteries.
Most of the time it’s similar to Royal Mail in that sending li-ion batteries on their own is prohibited but sending batteries within electrical equipment is allowed, provided you follow the packaging guidelines, which are again similar to Royal Mail, though they will usually also require you to affix some sort of label that shows the package contains batteries.
So really the only thing to do is double check the terms and conditions of the courier before you send an item.
One thing you do have to be aware of is that sometimes though they will accept the shipment, they will say it’s ineligible for compensation.
Yep, strange I know but that’s how it is so you’ll have to weigh up the benefit of cheaper postage vs not being covered for any damage during shipping.
Posting Batteries Overseas
The last point I want to go over today is posting batteries overseas and surprisingly, there isn’t actually too much different than for posting within the UK.
With Royal Mail for example the rules and requirements are exactly the same and with couriers, well again it’s just a matter of checking individually, but generally you will be required to fill out some extra forms and affix some additional labels to your package.
Nothing too arduous!
Alright, well that pretty much covers everything that I wanted to go over about importing and selling electronics containing batteries.
I’m sure most of you were already vaguely aware of these rules but if you do deal with these products at all, please take the time to understand everything and make sure your shipments are going out exactly as they should be.
This isn’t something you want to ignore as at the end of the day, all the liability rests with you!
Until next time,