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Proper disposal of popular lithium-ion batteries prevents fires, protects your family and the environment

Lithium-ion battery after fire in MarquetteLithium-ion batteries are increasingly part of modern life. You'll find them in mobile phones, laptops, tablets, cordless power tools and more. They're popular because they are lighter and last longer than alkaline batteries.

But when it comes time to dispose of them, lithium-ion batteries can pose a significant fire danger, as recently experienced at Marquette County's Solid Waste Management Authority.

"A solid waste load was received via a private hauler," said Bradley Austin, director of operations at the facility. "Upon processing the load with the landfill compactor, a bag of trash ignited. Upon investigation, four damaged lithium ion batteries were found. They were on fire and were burning the contents within the bag."

This is a major concern both on the solid waste and recycling side, Austin added. "Our operators are doing their best to keep an eye out for these types of materials. We continue efforts to educate both the residents and business community."

Michael Csapo, general manager of the Resource Recovery and Recycling Authority of Southwest Oakland County, recounts that the Southfield facility has experienced several fires since 2014, some of which were due to lithium-ion batteries or suspected to be. It then installed a Fire Rover system, which suppressed fires in 2018 and 2019 believed to be caused by lithium-ion batteries.

It's a growing concern as more people dispose of the batteries in curbside recycling and elsewhere, says Steve Nobel, EGLE's electronics recycling specialist. "And leaving them in your home also poses a danger too, since they puff up beyond their original casing, which makes them more likely to ignite and start a house fire," he added. "When batteries are damaged — or start to bulge over time — components within the battery, which are designed to be separated, mingle and may ignite a fire."

"That's why battery education is so important," says Csapo. "It's a health and safety issue," as well as an environmental one.

The best way to dispose of lithium-ion batteries is to treat them as hazardous waste, notes Austin. "First of all, recognize the hazard these materials pose," he said. "Participate and utilize the household hazardous waste and electronic waste collection programs available in your area. Options exist to capture these materials at the source and get them disposed/recycled properly."

EGLE lists household hazardous waste contacts by county, and its electronic waste takeback program webpage includes information on e-waste recyclers. EGLE also awards grants to local communities for e-waste recycling events. Watch for event announcements from your local municipality or recycling center.

Photo caption: A lithium-ion battery after a fire in Marquette. Photo credit: Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority.

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