Could your recycling be a fire hazard?
Excited about your new smartphone purchase, you pull it out of the case and start setting up your new device. Your old phone – which has just been replaced by the new model – remains lying on the counter, ready to be discarded.
It is an electronic and you are pretty certain electronics shouldn’t go to the landfill, and you may have heard parts can be recycled, there are precious metals in them after all. But wait! Did you know that if you throw your old phone in your recycling bin (or trash) at home, you can create a serious fire hazard. Batteries when faulty or crushed, can spark or explode.
In recent years, there has been a spike in fires erupting at recycling facilities due to lithium-ion batteries — like the battery contained in cell phones and other electronics or rechargeable batteries. In fact, recent research shows that nearly 40% of waste and recycling facilities have had fires annually due to unsuccessful attempts to recycle batteries and small electronics in curbside recycling.
In addition to fires breaking out at recycling facilities, waste and recycling collection trucks have also gone up in flames from lithium-ion batteries. It goes without saying that these fires are an extreme safety hazard for both drivers and the people working in recycling facilities as well as the surrounding communities.
Find out what other mis-recycled or “wishcycled” – or the hope that unaccepted items can be recycled – items cause potential safety hazards for waste and recycling workers here.
Why electronics and batteries are explosive
It is hard to imagine how such a simple act could cause so much harm, but many batteries, whether large or small, are packed with the power of combustion. Contained inside the batteries is a flammable electrolyte, this helps keep your laptop or cell phone charged, but when put under the right (or wrong) conditions, can ignite into flames. It’s not just cell phones and tablets or laptops that need special handling. Batteries, including the tiny ones in greeting cards, small electronic toys, and e-cigarettes can spark and explode, causing fires.
Once that battery leaves your curb with the other recyclables, it is often tossed in the back of a truck. This part of the recycling truck not only has hot temperatures, it also compacts inserted materials to fit it all into the truck, putting that battery under pressure. Hot load coming through!
When the load is delivered to the recycling facility, this already volatile situation can get even worse. At the facility, the battery is moved through a series of machines and equipment, causing additional pressure and potential holes to be poked into the battery. Combine these conditions (pressure and poking) with the mix of paper material moving through the facility, and you can see how things can heat up quickly.
Which batteries can be recycled or thrown in the trash?
When it comes to used batteries and small electronics, they don’t belong in your recycling or trash. Here’s why.
Lithium-ion. Nickel cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride, alkaline or rechargeable – there are a lot of battery types out there. And, while some batteries pose an increased risk of sparking or exploding or may include more potentially hazardous contents that can pollute the environment, it’s better to be safe when disposing of used batteries and small electronics. Safe disposal may include taking these items to a local hardware or electronics store or a local hazardous household waste facility, where your community may offer the safest battery disposal option near you.
Through special processes, the hazardous contents of batteries can be safely disposed of and batteries such as those found in cars and power lawn equipment can be carefully recycled into new batteries, but only when returned to the proper location.
How to safely dispose of used batteries and small electronics
Batteries and small electronics don’t belong in recycling or trash. Instead, take them to a safe collection site or ask your local waste and recycling program
Most importantly, you want to keep electronics and rechargeable batteries out of your recycling and trash bin. This will help to prevent the serious threat of fires caused by sparks or explosions.
Thankfully, there are several easy options for safe disposal and recycling of your electronics and batteries. Many local governments offer a location for the collection of hazardous materials and electronics as part of your solid waste services. Hop on to your City or County’s webpage, or give them a call, to see where you can safely take these items.
On your next trip to the hardware, home improvement, electronics or household goods store, check to see if the store offers a battery and small electronics recycling program. These stores often locate special bins to recycle batteries or small electronics near entrances and exits and may be adjacent to special plastic bag recycling bins. You can even bring your car batteries to auto shops for recycling!
Or, you can easily find a nearby location to return batteries and small electronics by searching for a nearby drop-off location here.
Help keep everyone safe, including your community and the environment, by safely disposing of batteries and small electronics.
Pretty sure you already know what to throw in your recycling bin? Check out your recycling knowledge here.