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Marquette County implements community education program on proper recycling and disposal of batteries

Fire caused by lithium-ion battery at Marquette landfill Fire caused by lithium-ion battery at Marquette landfill. Credit: Marquette County's Solid Waste On Battery Day, MI Environment follows up with Marquette County after improper recycling and disposal of lithium-ion batteries are believed to have caused several fires at a landfill.

Following a major fire in December 2020 and several smaller fires thereafter - all suspected to be due to improper disposal of lithium-ion batteries -- Marquette County's Solid Waste Management Authority implemented a community battery education program in 2021, with help from a grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

Lithium-ion batteries are found 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 experienced at the Marquette County's Solid Waste Management Authority's landfill.

The $60,000 EGLE grant -with local matching funds -- helped to implement the battery education program in July 2021 that:

  • Emphasizes proper identification of battery types and devices containing batteries.
  • Illustrates the effects of improper disposal.
  • Encourages proper battery recycling.
  • Provides location of battery recycling drop off locations in the county.

Bradley Austin, director of operations at the facility, says the program has improved community awareness, noting that the Marquette County has seen fewer lithium battery related fires in the landfill in the past six months. "We are encouraged but realize the mission never ends regarding education and awareness," he added. Particularly challenging has been ensuring that different battery types are prepared for recycling properly - such as taping terminals of all batteries.

Taping the exposed terminals of batteries (or alternatively, bagging) can help prevent the battery from rubbing against other batteries, metals or potentially flammable materials, which could result in fires, personal injury or other damage. Duct, electrical or packing tape are all good options in addition to placing batteries in clear, zip-top bags.

Marquette County - with the help of its partners -- has become a leader in battery education, and plans call for the expansion of the program's message to other counties in the Upper Peninsula, says Austin. Equally important is that communities have a recycling drop off location available, he added.

Lithium-ion battery recycling tips
  • Lithium-ion batteries and devices containing these batteries should not go in household garbage or recycling bins.
  • Before you take the batteries to the recycling center, take a moment and prepare the batteries for shipping. 
  • Taping the terminals will help to prevent shorting out and starting fires. You can place lithium-ion batteries in small separate plastic bags.
  • NEW!!! Check out these short videos on preparing batteries for recycling: Terminals to tape:  Cell phone and computer. Applying tape to batteries:  AAcell phonecomputer, and button.
  • Find recycling options on EGLE's electronic waste recycling list and its household hazardous waste webpage.
  • Additional collection locations can be found on Call2Recycle's website.

Caption: Fire caused by lithium-ion battery at Marquette landfill. Photo courtesy of Marquette County's Solid Waste Management Authority.

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