Posting Lithium Batteries - Packing Instructions For UN3481

Shipping lithium batteries needn’t be something to worry about. It just takes a bit of knowledge and planning. In this post we explain what they are and how best to get them to their destination.

You may not know what a lithium battery is, but it’s more than likely you’re using one right now while reading this very article! However, if you ever want to post or ship a device containing a lithium battery, you’ll soon find that they can be troublesome.

In this article, we’ll explain what lithium batteries are, where you might find them and the dangers associated with them. We’ll also explain how you can easily post lithium batteries if you want to, as well as the regulations you need to conform to. We hope to answer all your questions about lithium batteries, giving you peace of mind that you’re doing the right thing if you try to post them. Let’s get started.

What are lithium batteries?

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are the power behind many of the devices we use every day.

What makes them different from the regular alkaline batteries is that they’re significantly more powerful, they’re light too. It’s these reasons why they’re found in many mobiles and other portable electronic devices we use today. In many cases, the batteries are contained within the device, so you can’t take them out.

Where can I find lithium batteries?

You can find rechargeable lithium batteries in many of the devices you use every day, maybe even the one you’re looking at now.

  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Laptops
  • Smart watches
  • Remote controls
  • Cameras
  • Power tools

Of course, this list doesn’t cover everything that contains lithium batteries. If you’re wondering if a particular device you own contains lithium batteries, please check your instruction manual or the manufacturer’s website. If you’re sending devices containing lithium batteries in the post, you have a legal responsibility to declare it.

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What’s the problem with posting lithium batteries?

The difficulty with posting or shipping lithium batteries and their associated devices is that in certain conditions, lithium batteries are extremely flammable. In the wrong setting, lithium batteries can overheat and burst into flames. What’s more, lithium fires are difficult to extinguish. If a lithium fire broke out in a truck, or even a plane, it could be a terrible disaster.

Why would I want to post lithium batteries?

We appreciate that sometimes posting devices containing lithium batteries is unavoidable. If you have a business selling electronics online, for example, it will be difficult to avoid posting items containing them. You may also want to send devices containing lithium batteries as presents.

The process for shipping lithium batteries can be difficult. There are many regulations you need to keep to, and packaging instructions you need to follow. However, with a bit of planning and care, you can do it.

Can I send lithium batteries through the post?

The answer is yes. However, because lithium batteries are potentially so dangerous, you need to follow strict rules.

A good place to start if you’re in the UK is the  Royal Mail. Here’s what they say about posting lithium batteries.

  • You cannot send lithium batteries on their own through domestic or international post.
  • You can send lithium batteries in the UK or international post only when they’re contained in a device (except in their Business Response, Freepost, Packetpost and Packetsort services).
  • You can also send lithium batteries in the UK when they’re sent with their device (except in their Royal Mail Tracked Returns, Business Response, Freepost, Royal Mail 24 and Royal Mail 48).

These  regulations from the Royal Mail follow those set down by the United Nations and International Air Transport Association (IATA). Even if you’re using a courier service rather than the Royal Mail, these rules will still apply.

There are more rules that you need to follow, no matter which posting or shipping service you use.

  • When shipping abroad, lithium batteries must remain inside their associated device. You may not ship lithium batteries separately.
  • With your package containing lithium batteries, you need to include a handling label, accompanied by a Transport Document. (DHL don’t require this but others do)
  • There may be an extra charge to send lithium batteries by air, as they have to be handled separately at the airport.
  • You may only send a maximum of 2 lithium batteries (or 4 lithium cells) in one package.
  • You must take all available precautions to stop the device overheating. Turn off the device and seal the on/off switch with tape, to stop it turning on accidentally.
  • Do not ship lithium batteries near to metal. Seal electric terminals with tape to stop accidental overheating.
  • You must put your device in a plastic bag before you ship it. It creates an extra barrier against fire, as well as decreasing the risk of static interference.
  • You are not allowed to ship faulty lithium batteries.
  • When shipping lithium batteries abroad, you must check the specific rules regarding lithium batteries of the country you’re shipping to.

Where did these rules come from?

The rules above brought in from 2009 by the IATA, following a number of incidents of lithium batteries catching fire on planes. The United Nations classified lithium batteries contained in devices with the number UN3481. With the IATA, they drew up regulations governing how lithium batteries must be transported on planes.

How should I package lithium batteries?

When posting lithium batteries by ground or by air, you must take account of the UN3481 regulations as detailed above.

  • Make sure your lithium battery is contained in its associated device.
  • Seal the on/off switches and any electrical terminals with tape.
  • Place your device in a plastic bag before packaging it.
  • Make sure you attach the correct shipping label for the service you’re using to ship your lithium batteries. You have the responsibility to ensure all your documentation is correct.

You must also make sure your package is secure, and will not break if it is dropped. Use as much hard-wearing packaging as you can.

Find out more

To conclude, with a bit of research and planning, it’s possible to ship devices containing lithium batteries with a minimum of difficulty.

If you would like to find out more about posting lithium batteries, or anything else, talk to the experts at UK Postbox. Tens of thousands of customers worldwide trust us with their parcels. We’re always happy to help.

Donna Chester
May 8, 2018
Explainers