Fire! Gadgets thrown in the trash are causing battery blazes at waste centers

We’ve read countless stories over the years of unstable lithium-ion batteries suddenly exploding, including in smartphones, hoverboards, and vape pens — sometimes with tragic consequences — so it’s kind of surprising we’re not more careful about how we dispose of them.

Left inside trashed electronics that can include anything from those listed above to laptops, cameras, and power tools, the batteries are causing fires at garbage and recycling centers across the country, according to a USA Today report.

Take California. The state blamed exploding batteries for 65 percent of fires at its waste facilities in 2017. The issue has become so serious that it’s launched an awareness campaign to highlight the dangers and to ask consumers to stop throwing their old battery-powered gadgets into the trash.

New York, too, is facing similar challenges. USA Today’s report points out that in March a battery caused a fire at a recycling facility in Queens that burned for two days and caused disruption to nearby train services.

Garbage truck workers are also at risk. An incident in New York City last year saw a lithium-ion battery explode as the truck compacted the trash, setting fire to the burnables inside.

The problem is that if the battery’s exposed metal parts touch something metallic, sparks can fly, resulting in a blaze. Damaged batteries can also malfunction with similar results.

George Kerchner, executive director of the Rechargeable Battery Association, told the news outlet that some consumers get rid of the batteries without too much thought, “hoping that somebody at the end of the line will recycle them eventually.”

But he cautioned that “these are high-energy batteries, no question about it. If they’re not properly handled, they can catch on fire.”

With demand for the technology continuing to rise, it’s all the more important that consumers understand the possible consequences of tossing used batteries into the garbage.

For ways to recycle them, try doing an online search to find local services willing to handle them. Call2recycle, for example, is a useful source of information.

With the Recycling Locator at Earth911 you can select batteries by type to see a map of the closest safe disposal centers closest to your zip code.

Alternatively, save them up for your next visit to a Home Depot, Best Buy, or Lowe’s, all of which recycle lithium-ion batteries for free.

To be on the safe side, when you’re done with a removable lithium-ion battery, be sure to place it by itself inside a closed plastic bag to isolate the terminals, or simply put tape over them. That way you’ll reduce the chances of your battery ending up in the news for reducing a garbage truck to a burned-out shell, or worse.

Updated May 22 with information on Earth911.

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