Shipping Knowledge

How to Ship Lithium Batteries Safely in North America: A Comprehensive Guide

In a world increasingly powered by portable electronics, the shipping of lithium batteries has become commonplace. However, these power sources carry with them a level of risk that cannot be overlooked. As we connect and empower our lives with an array of battery-operated gadgets, the need for safe transportation of these items grows ever more critical. This guide aims to shed light on the proper protocols for shipping lithium batteries, ensuring that your products arrive safely without posing hazards to handlers, recipients, or the environment. By understanding and adhering to the right practices, businesses and individuals can navigate the complexities of battery shipping with confidence and care.

Why the Caution with Lithium Batteries?

From the portable electronics we carry to the wearable gadgets that track our fitness, lithium batteries are the silent powerhouse within. Here’s a quick look at commonplace items containing these batteries:

– Laptops, Mobile phones, Tablets

– Cordless tools like drills

– Personal care items such as electric shavers

– Digital cameras, Watches, Fitness trackers

– Wireless audio devices, Hearing aids

Then there are the less obvious items like musical greeting cards, animated books, light-up shoes, or even battery-powered jewelry. Given the propensity for these batteries to ignite if mishandled, adhering to strict shipping protocols is non-negotiable.

Why are batteries considered “dangerous goods”?

Batteries, particularly those containing lithium, are classified as dangerous goods due to the inherent risks they pose during transportation. These risks necessitate strict adherence to shipping regulations for several critical reasons:
  • Highly Flammable Nature: Lithium batteries can easily ignite if they are damaged, improperly packaged, or exposed to high temperatures. This flammability makes them a significant fire hazard, particularly in the close confines of air or ground transport vehicles.
  • Sensitivity to Environmental Conditions: These batteries are susceptible to extreme temperatures, pressure changes, and physical shocks. Such conditions can lead to a thermal runaway, where an increase in temperature changes the conditions in a way that causes a further increase in temperature, often resulting in a fire or explosion.
  • Risk of Short-Circuiting: If the battery terminals come into contact with other metal objects or if the batteries are not insulated properly, there is a heightened risk of a short circuit. This can generate enough heat to ignite the battery or nearby materials.
    Given these dangers, it is vital for all parties involved in the shipping process, from retailers to couriers, to rigorously follow protocols for declaring, packing, labeling, and storing lithium batteries. This careful handling ensures the safety of the shipment, the handlers, the end-users, and the environment.

    The difference between lithium-metal and lithium-ion batteries

    Lithium-ion (Li-ion) and lithium-metal batteries are two distinct types of batteries that power a wide array of modern devices, each with unique characteristics and uses. Lithium-ion batteries, which you’ll find in rechargeable devices like laptops and smartphones, contain lithium compounds rather than metallic lithium. These batteries are less prone to combustion, making them a slightly safer option for shipping. However, they are not without risks and can still present significant safety concerns if they’re damaged, defective, or subjected to extreme conditions.

    On the other hand, lithium-metal batteries, often used in non-rechargeable applications such as watches and certain medical devices, contain pure metallic lithium. They boast a higher energy density and can provide longer life for products that require batteries with a long shelf life. Yet, this type of battery is generally considered more hazardous due to its more reactive nature, leading to stricter shipping regulations. Some carriers are reluctant to handle them or may impose more stringent rules to ensure safety during transit.

    Tips for Safely Sending Batteries by Mail

    To make sure you’re staying safe, you should ensure that your shipments are in line with battery shipping regulations. Here are a few tips on how to ship lithium batteries safely:  

  • Make sure that batteries and terminals are well protected to avoid short-circuiting
  • Cover terminals with insulating, non-conductive materials
  • Pack each battery in fully-enclosed interior packaging to protect the terminals
  • Don’t place heavy items on packed batteries
  • Keep batteries away from other metal objects that may cause short-circuiting
  • Avoid turning on devices with installed batteries while being shipped
  • Put a protective covering on the switches of any device with these batteries to prevent accidental activation while in transit
  • Don’t store batteries in extreme heat
  • Ensure that batteries are not defective or placed incorrectly in devices
  • Pad the device in the package to avoid movement that might lead to accidental activation
  • Label the shipment to make it obvious that it contains lithium batteries or dangerous goods.

    Courier Requirements for shipping products with lithium batteries inside

    When shipping products containing lithium batteries, each courier may have its own set of requirements based on the type of battery, the way it’s packed, and whether it’s installed in equipment. Below are some general guidelines for major couriers:

    Shipping Batteries Installed in Products

    For eCommerce businesses or individuals tasked with sending out goods that have lithium batteries installed, understanding the shipping requirements is paramount. Transporting electronics or other items containing these batteries isn’t as straightforward as other shipments due to the potential risks involved.

    Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of what you need to know before sending your lithium battery-equipped products on their journey:

    Understanding Regulatory Compliance

  • International and Domestic Regulations: You’ll need to familiarize yourself with both the international regulations—like those from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO)—and domestic regulations that apply within North America.
  • National Authority and Courier Approvals: Some shipments may require pre-approval from national authorities or specific couriers, especially if you’re sending larger quantities or more potent batteries.
  • Packaging and Labeling

  • Specialized Packaging: Shipping lithium batteries isn’t as simple as placing them in a box and sending them off. They may require specialized packaging designed to mitigate the risks of short-circuiting or damage during transit.
  • Accurate Labeling: Clear and accurate labeling is critical. The package must indicate that it contains lithium batteries, which are considered dangerous goods. Depending on the battery type and the quantity, additional labels such as “Class 9 Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods” may be necessary.
  • Training and Certification

  • HazMat Training: The person packing the batteries may need Hazardous Materials (HazMat) training to ensure they understand the risks and the correct methods of packing these items. It’s not just a good practice; it’s often a legal requirement.
  • Documentation: Ensure that all necessary documentation accompanies the shipment. This includes safety data sheets, declarations for dangerous goods, and any other paperwork required by regulatory bodies or the chosen courier service.
  • By taking these steps and ensuring strict adherence to shipping protocols, you can mitigate the risks associated with transporting lithium batteries and ensure that your products arrive safely at their destination. UUCargo supports businesses in navigating these complexities with expertise and tailored shipping solutions, ensuring that your cargo, however sensitive, is handled with the utmost care and professionalism.

    Find the Cheapest Rates

    Compare all major couriers and get the best rate and service options at highly discounted rates

    FAQs about shipping batteries

    1. Does it cost more to ship lithium batteries?

    Yes, shipping lithium batteries typically incurs additional costs. These items are classified as dangerous goods due to their flammability and potential for causing harm. Shipping them safely requires special packaging, handling, and documentation, all of which contribute to higher shipping rates.

    2. Are batteries shipped fully charged?

    Lithium batteries shipped alone should not be more than 30% charged, particularly when sent via air, to minimize the risk of a thermal event. However, when batteries are installed in devices, this limitation may not apply, but it’s always best to check with the specific carrier’s guidelines.

    3. Are there any size and weight restrictions for shipping lithium batteries?

    Yes, there are restrictions on the size and weight of packages containing lithium batteries. Individual carriers have specific rules, but commonly, a package cannot exceed a certain weight (often around 30 kilograms or 66 pounds) and must adhere to size restrictions for both domestic and international shipments.

    4. What labeling and documentation are required for shipping lithium batteries?

    Shipments containing lithium batteries require appropriate labeling, such as Class 9 Hazardous Material labels and lithium battery handling labels. The required documentation typically includes a Safety Data Sheet (SDS), a declaration for dangerous goods, and any additional paperwork required by carriers or destination countries.

    5. What happens if lithium batteries are shipped incorrectly?

    Improper shipping of lithium batteries can lead to regulatory fines, returns, or disposal of the shipment at the sender’s expense. More seriously, it can cause safety incidents such as fires, which could lead to legal liabilities and endanger lives.

    Related Articles

    Master cross-border shipping from Canada to the USA with our comprehensive guide. Learn about customs, shipping partners, and tips for seamless logistics.
    Ready to take your Amazon business to the next level? Our comprehensive guide to FBA shipping will help you understand the ins and outs of the program.

    Your All-in-one Shipping platform

    Get better domestic Canada and cross-border LTL Shipping, Parcels, Customs Brokerage, Amazon FBA and more shipping solutions.
    Scroll to Top