Royal Mail bans postage of Lithium batteries

There are currently some 24,000 listings on eBay and 198,704 results on Amazon for Lithium batteries, but come January sellers will have to find alternatives to Royal Mail to ship them.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have agreed new rules with Royal Mail on what potentially dangerous goods can and cannot be transported safely through the post and that includes Lithium batteries.

Royal Mail already restricts or prohibits items from its network which are classed as low risk and currently all Lithium batteries should be shipped through business accounts. Anyone shipping Lithium batteries through 1st or 2nd class post is already breaking the rules.

Changes coming into effect on the 14th of January 2013 also include Aerosols, Alcohol, Nail Varnish and Perfume. The new rules will come into effect for all contract business customers sending to UK addresses and for all consumers and businesses sending items abroad.

Full details are available in the Royal Mail Prohibitions and restrictions in the domestic and international post pdf booklet

Why the change

As of October this year, 132 air incidents involving batteries have been recorded since the 20th of March, 1991. In 2010 a UPS cargo plane crashed in Dubai, and it was later reported that undeclared Lithium batteries were on board.

The problem with Lithium batteries is that even if they’re not the cause of the fire, they are not easy to extinguish once burning and if in a shipment of multiple batteries will easily set each other on fire. They should be declared as hazardous cargo.

What Royal Mail will be doing

Whilst it’s almost impossible for Royal Mail to catch every Lithium Battery posted in a Pillar Box, they will be stepping up screening, especially for shipments going by air. That includes all International shipments, but also a large number of domestic deliveries which are transported on a plane for some of their journey.

If Lithium batteries are found they will simply be destroyed, not returned to the sender. Sellers may or may not be notified and/or prosecuted, but regardless it will result in buyers not receiving their purchases.

Impact for marketplace sellers of batteries

If you sell Lithium batteries you should already be shipping them on a business account via Royal Mail tracked. Come January you won’t be able to ship them via Royal Mail unless they are being shipped (domestically and Internationally) when already installed in a device, or when shipped with a device (domestic post only).

If you sell Lithium batteries, including those to fit everything from watches to laptops and even rechargeable drills and somewhat perversely smoke alarms, then these replacement batteries will have to be shipped with an alternative carrier and you should be shipping them as hazardous goods.

I do sympathise with battery sellers, what was once a very low cost highly competitive market will now face increased costs and doubtless some sellers will either be unaware of Royal Mail’s policy changes or simply ignore them leading to uncompetitive pricing by those that do comply. Already many battery sellers are breaking the rules by shipping in stamped mail rather than through a business account.

Whilst shipping with an alternative carrier is likely to cost more, failure to comply with the legal requirements for the transport of dangerous goods puts lives at risk and is a criminal offence which may be subject to prosecution. It’s unlikely a consumer will be prosecuted for breaking the rules, but if you are a business routinely selling Lithium batteries then your marketplace seller reputation suffering from lost shipments could be the least of your worries.

Thanks to Stu of Urban 33 for highlighting this story