Lithium Batteries: What’s the problem?
The use of lithium batteries is increasing. With expanded use comes increased fire risk. When lithium batteries are improperly disposed of, they can start a fire.
Lithium batteries are easily damaged once they enter the waste stream. When they’re dropped, scraped, crushed or punctured, the lithium inside becomes exposed. When lithium combines with water, it produces highly flammable hydrogen and lithium hydroxide. This combination alone produces a spark.
When this happens inside a garbage or recycling truck or solid waste facility, the resulting spark can start a fire that has devastating consequences. Because the battery is surrounded by solid waste materials, which serve as fuel, the fire quickly spreads. The fire can get out of control and burn for weeks. A fire of this type has the potential to critically disrupt the Authority’s solid waste infrastructure.
How do I identify a lithium battery?
Lithium batteries can be found in the following products (not an exhaustive list):
- Electronic devices, such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, computer peripherals, Bluetooth devices and smart wearables
- Power tools
- Remote car keys
- Vaping devices
- Game controllers
- Digital cameras
- Portable power packs
- Greeting cards
- Electric toothbrushes
- Medical equipment
- Smoke/carbon monoxide alarms
- E-bikes and e-scooters
The battery or device containing the battery may list its chemistry on the battery’s case, instruction manuals or product markings. There may also be symbols that state the chemistry or the chasing arrow symbol (three arrows forming a triangle) with the words “Li-ion” below it.
Can lithium batteries be recycled?
Some lithium batteries have the chasing arrow symbol (three arrows forming a triangle) on them. This symbol means the battery can be recycled at specialized battery recyclers. But these batteries must never be placed into the recycling bin. If they end up in the bin, they can become damaged or crushed during processing and become a fire hazard.
Find one of seven Home Chemical and Recycling Centers near you to drop off your lithium batteries to be recycled. Note: E-bikes, e-scooters and mobility items may have large watt-hour batteries (>300W-H) that are not accepted by the Authority. We recommend contacting the manufacturer or retailer for recycling of these batteries.
Do Your Part and a Fire Won’t Start
So now that you understand the fire hazard associated with improper disposal of lithium batteries, what can you do to be battery smart and fire smart?
Take charge of your waste! Never place lithium batteries inside garbage or recycling carts or bins. Instead, properly dispose of them by taping the terminals and then dropping them off at one of the Authority’s Home Chemical and Recycling Centers to be recycled. We have seven convenient HCRC locations throughout the county. Most major retailers also accept batteries for free. Look for collection boxes inside the lobby or near the entrance or ask an associate for assistance.
Find an SWA Home Chemical and Recycling Center or retailer drop-off location near you.
Spread the word. Many people aren’t aware of the fire hazard associated with improper battery disposal. With consumers being one of the two primary groups at the lithium battery end of life management chain (the other group being recyclers), it’s important for the broad consumer public to be informed about the hazards and best practices for disposing of lithium batteries. Help us protect people and resources by spreading the word about the fire hazard posed by lithium batteries.