Batteries Continue to Light Up Recycling Facilities

Have you ever noticed that batteries are in many common items in our lives? Our phones, that birthday card that plays a song, the light up pen we got for free, or that cordless vacuum. These everyday items around the house contain batteries, which means that when it’s time to get rid of them when they break or are no longer usable, they must be disposed of in a special way for safety purposes. Batteries don’t belong in the recycle, compost, or garbage bins!

And yet, recycling facilities across the country are facing increased fires due to lithium batteries. The Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos has experienced 47 fires since the 2016 four-alarm fire that caused $6.8 million in damages and four-and-a-half months of closure that put 70 employees on furlough. 95% or 45 of the 47 fires, were caused by lithium batteries. RethinkWaste’s Executive Director, Joe La Mariana, spoke recently to VICE News about the impacts of the rise of gadgets and electric cars have had on the Shoreway facility. The top issue with battery-related fires are the safety risks these fires pose for facility workers and the machinery.

As a government agency, RethinkWaste is made up of 11 member agencies* that banded together in 1982 to handle their waste. Costs at the Shoreway facility ultimately trickle down to ratepayers, which is why proper handling of batteries is vital. Additionally, insurance policies play a role in this pressing issue. Before the fire, the Shoreway facility was served by one insurance company, which paid out the damages of the 2016 fire. Shortly after, the insurance company dropped Shoreway as a client because it was deemed too high of a risk, and now the facility relies on seven different insurance policies with premiums jumping from $180,000 per year to $1.5 million.

Residents and businesses can do their part in properly and responsibly handling their batteries. But the biggest influence in this issue are the manufacturers that continue to create a product while not being held responsible to manage the end life of their products. RethinkWaste is working with agencies across the state to change this and to hold manufacturers accountable. In an effort to ensure access to safe battery disposal and reduce fire risk, Senator Josh Newman and Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin introduced SB 1215 and AB 2440. These two mirrored bills, also known as the Responsible Battery Recycling Act, create a statewide collection and recycling program for batteries and battery-embedded products. Find the official press release here. We can all work together to raise awareness of this issue, and support legislation that aims to tackle the problem.

Find the full VICE News article here.

To find out more about how you can responsibly handle your used batteries, visit our battery page.

*Member agencies are: Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, Unincorporated parts of San Mateo County, and West Bay Sanitary District.