As batteries have become prevalent in our homes, they’ve also become prevalent in household waste and recycling bins. Unfortunately, the result has been an alarming increase in fires and explosions in the trucks and facilities that we all rely on to manage our waste and recyclables. These fires – which occur when batteries get punctured or crushed by heavy equipment – endanger the safety of the men and women who run these operations, as well as the first responders who come to help.
Nearly 300 such fires and 3 fatalities were reported at North American facilities in 2017. A consultant studying lithium-ion batteries at a California recycling facility found over 1,000 batteries in the course of 5 weeks, citing a rate of 5.48 batteries per hour.
Bottom line - many people are unaware of how to discard their unwanted lithium-ion batteries. Here’s what you should know:
- Don’t put lithium-ion batteries into your recycling bin!
- Don’t put lithium-ion batteries into your trash bin!
- Do visit Call2Recycle to find a place that will take your old batteries or cell phones for free.
(Author’s note: I just typed in my address and found 3 locations within 10 miles, including a Home Depot, a Lowe’s, and a Staples. Easy!)
Lithium-ion batteries are dangerous when placed in your trash and recycling bin, but here’s the thing: they are really valuable when recycled properly (through official drop-off locations). In fact, the Department of Energy just announced a major initiative to encourage lithium-ion battery recovery. This is because lithium and cobalt are on our national list of “critical minerals,” meaning that we rely on limited foreign supply chains to access them, yet they’re “vital to our national security and economic prosperity.”
Vital to our security and prosperity! So what will it take to get everyone to manage these materials properly? Here’s one idea: Why not eliminate the $0.05 deposit on bottles and cans (which can be easily recycled in curbside recycling programs) and instead put a nice deposit on these lithium-ion batteries? If free drop-off locations can’t motivate people to bring in their batteries, maybe cold hard cash would draw them in!