Disposal Of Lithium Batteries Pose Fire Risks

Facing Fire Risk, Officials Urge Safe Disposal of Rechargeable Batteries

 

The improper disposal of worn-out lithium-ion batteries is posing a rising fire risk for Northwest Arkansas’ recycling and waste programs and the public they serve.

The rechargeable batteries in cell phones, vape pens, power tools and other electronic devices are more common than ever, with hundreds of pounds of them showing up each month in the region’s recycling centers, on trash trucks and at disposal sites. Such batteries spark hundreds of fires each year across the country, including incidents in recent months in Rogers and Fayetteville.

Lithium-ion and other rechargeable batteries can safely go to free drop-off locations in Northwest Arkansas’ five largest cities and nearby communities, minimizing the risks and allowing valuable lithium and other materials to be reused.

With a constant stream of new gadgets coming to the area’s households, the Boston Mountain and Benton County solid waste districts as well as NWA Recycles have kicked off a campaign to spread awareness of these programs.

“Before throwing any battery away, residents should take an extra moment to properly separate rechargeable batteries such as batteries found in cell phones, laptops, Roomba vacuums, cordless drills, hearing aids and many other devices,” said Wendy Bland, director of the Benton County Solid Waste District. Batteries can be placed individually into a plastic bag for drop-off, she added.

“Taking that time to prepare these batteries for safe disposal can help prevent an accidental fire,” Bland said. “If a rechargeable lithium-ion battery is crushed or broken, a fire can start spontaneously – including inside your home or car, inside a trash or recycling truck or inside a waste facility.”

Drop-off locations that accept lithium-ion batteries and other varieties of batteries are listed in the following table, alphabetical by city. Electronics and office supply store locations such as Best Buy, Staples, Lowe’s and Home Depot throughout the region also accept devices and their batteries for recycling. (Note that while some drop-off locations also take alkaline batteries, like alkaline AAs and AAAs, these generally aren’t a hazard in the trash.)

Drop Off Site Table

“Boston Mountain Solid Waste District accepts most types of batteries for recycling at multiple locations around Washington and Madison counties to hopefully make it easier for residents keep themselves, their families, workers, and our environment safe,” said Robyn Reed, the district’s director.

Many battery-related fires stem from breakage, which can cause the energy stored within a battery to release all at once in a flash of heat and flame. Sparks can also fly when certain batteries’ terminals make contact with each other. It’s a dangerous combination in recycling and waste transfer facilities and in landfills, all of which store mounds of flammable materials and routinely crush them for transport or storage.

“They are just extremely hot when they burn, and nothing puts them out, they just have got to burn their way through,” said Jerrold Haley, superintendent of the James R. Welch Recycling Center in Rogers.

Unnoticed batteries in a box started a small fire in a cardboard bale at the Rogers center in November, though luckily a staff member closing for the day noticed it before it spread, Haley said. And similar flares aren’t unusual at Fayetteville’s waste transfer station, according to city officials.

“With our material here – we recycle a lot of paper – it could have been bad,” Haley said.

 

The City Of Johnson, Arkansas