Lithium Battery Regulations: Are Retailers Getting Their Shipments Together?

woman chooses a laptop

It isn’t just DOT/PHMSA regulations that keep retailers that ship lithium batteries up at night

On Friday, August 7, 2015, the US Department of Transportation’s new lithium battery shipping rules went into effect.

In the weeks since, retailers have handled the challenges of the new regulations as best they can. Many are still scrambling, as they adapt their shipping operations to rules that never applied to their business before.

The Impact of the New Regulations

Before August 7, most retail shipments containing lithium batteries didn’t need special labeling. Those were the days.

Among other changes, the new regulations eliminated the 12/24 exception, which allowed shippers to avoid special labeling on packages with no more than 12 lithium batteries or 24 lithium cells.

Now, not only do most packages containing lithium batteries require special labels, but you also have to distinguish between battery chemistries—lithium ion or lithium metal, and battery configuration—packed with equipment, contained in equipment, or standalone batteries.

If you’re like many retailers, that means knowing what’s in every package or tote leaving your door. One phone and five t-shirts? Get the right label! Two laptops, six phones and a dozen watches? Get the right label! A crate of e-cigarettes, hearing aid batteries and dish towels? You get the idea.

USPS, Airlines and Reverse Logistics

The new US DOT regulations aren’t the only battery-related complication retail shippers face these days.

The US Postal Service has its own, separate lithium battery shipping requirements. And many airlines have imposed their own embargoes since Boeing’s July guidance against carrying lithium batteries as cargo on passenger planes.

And then there’s the question of reverse logistics. How do you make sure your customers’ returns containing lithium batteries are in compliance?

Here’s how some of our clients are handling the issue:

  • Including return labels with every shipment
  • Asking customers to call and request labels
  • Referring customers to website tutorials
  • Simply sending out new batteries, and requesting that customers dispose of the old batteries properly

Each solution has its pros and cons. None of them is perfect, but you need to have processes in place. You can’t leave your customers stranded.

Is Automation the Answer?

Unless you’re a small, niche e-retailer, your shipping operations are probably automated to some degree. The trick is finding a partner that can teach your IT personnel to understand the Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR Parts 100-180).

At Labelmaster, our software and expert advice help translate shipping regulations into software logic to improve your shipping systems. We can explain the most complex shipping scenarios and requirements, make adjustments when regulations change, and help train your teams on the software.

Of course, our packaging resources—like barcoded labels—can make your operation even more efficient, while removing one more opportunity for human error.

Converting “regulatory speak” into software cuts down on time and errors. Complying with lithium battery shipping regulations may never be easy, but a more automated approach can certainly make your job easier.


Make sure your lithium battery shipments are safe and in full compliance, with a full line of solutions from Labelmaster—a full-service provider of goods and services for hazardous materials and Dangerous Goods professionals, shippers, transport operators and EH&S providers.


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