Lithium batteries are a risk when mismanaged

It’s nearly impossible to scan a modern home and not spot electronic devices with lithium-based batteries. From smartphones, watches and fitness trackers, to toothbrushes and toys, they are increasingly the power source of choice. Those batteries are also increasingly found in the waste stream where they can create significant hazards.

“There’s definitely a correlation in the rise of these batteries showing up in the waste stream and catastrophic fires occurring,” Jesse Maxwell, the Solid Waste Association of North America’s (SWANA) advocacy and safety manager, told Waste Dive.

Read the full story by Katie Pyzyk in Waste Dive here.

Concerns about lithium-ion batteries are unfortunately nothing new for RethinkWaste. In September 2016, our recycling facility at the Shoreway Environmental Center suffered a catastrophic fire that was likely caused by a  lithium-ion battery. Thankfully, all staff were evacuated safely, but it shut down our facility for four months and cost over $8.5 million in damages to our recycling sorting equipment.

This is why it’s important to safely and properly handle used batteries, including taping the ends of lithium batteries before recycling. Find out how and where you can dispose of your household batteries at rethinkwaste.org/batteries.

Are you Disposing Your Batteries Properly?

Do you have a laptop, sneakers that light up or a key fob at home? Do you know all these items contain batteries? When these items no longer work, you need to dispose of them responsibly and not toss them in any of your carts or bins!

Batteries are a type of hazardous waste containing toxic chemicals, that when tossed in the trash or recycling can cause a lot of harm to the environment and recycling facilities.  In the garbage, batteries can leach chemicals into the landfill and in the recycling, they can be crushed by sorting machines and potentially cause a fire. That’s exactly what happened at our Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos. On September 7, 2016, our recycling facility suffered a catastrophic fire that caused nearly $8.5 million in damages and all due to a lithium-ion battery.

So little, yet so destructive!

Next time you have a device that no longer works, check to see if it has a battery in it and dispose responsibly. There are lots of options!

Residents in single-family homes can place bagged batteries in a clear zip-top bag and place ON TOP of the black garbage cart on collection day. Residents in apartments or condos can see if they have an orange bucket and placed bagged batteries in there. You can also bring batteries to the Shoreway Environmental Center’s Public Recycling Center for free or you can drop off batteries at a dozen locations in the RethinkWaste service area. Get more information about the above services here.

Important change made to battery disposal on collection day

As of Sept. 3, a program allowing residents of local single-family households or in apartment buildings with four units or less to dispose of household batteries and cellphones on collection day re-launched with an important change.

Instead of putting batteries and cellphones into clear zip-top bags and placing them on the blue cart, which is the recycling cart, the program now requires residents to place them on the black cart, or the trash cart.

It’s an important safety change involving a local recycling center.

“Currently, the RethinkWaste-owned Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos finds on average 13 batteries per hour on the recycling sort line,” officials said. “Batteries are helpful in everyday life, but when batteries are improperly disposed of and end up in a facility with lots of heavy equipment, this can lead to a bad combination. On September 7, 2016, the Shoreway Environmental Center experienced a four-alarm fire that was likely called by a lithium-ion battery. Thankfully all staff were evacuated safely, but it cost $8.5 million in damages.”

Read the full story on Climate Online Redwood City here.