What to do with used batteries – WIZM 92.3FM 1410AM

This may be common practice, but disposing of used batteries and electronics can be not only harmful to the environment but also dangerous.

Due to rising fires in showrooms as well as recycling and recycling facilities, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been working with the state’s waste and recycling industry to raise consumer awareness about the proper disposal of used batteries and electronics since Friday National Battery Day.

Many batteries, especially powerful lithium-ion batteries in small electronics, can hold a significant charge even if they no longer provide enough power to power the device. If these batteries are damaged, they may spark or react in a way that could cause a fire.

“If you put electronics or batteries in a recycling bin or garbage, you put workers at risk,” said Chris Blanc, Brown County Resource Recovery Technician. “Delivering batteries or electronics to the delivery point may be an additional step, but it’s really important.”

When consumers put used batteries or electronics in trash cans or containers, heavy equipment that collects, sorts, and recycles or disposes of waste can easily damage batteries. A punctured or bent lithium-ion battery can produce enough heat to melt or ignite materials near the battery, even if the battery itself does not ignite.

The number of fires caused by damaged batteries is increasing in waste collection machines, recycling facilities, transfer stations and landfills. A 2021 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found 245 fires at recycling facilities and vehicles nationwide between 2013 and 2020, probably caused by lithium-ion batteries.

If they are not detected in time, these fires can quickly spread and injure workers or firefighters, as well as cause serious damage to equipment and some even destroy entire facilities. An EPA study found that fires were particularly harmful to facilities that recycle materials such as jars, bottles and paper, as such facilities are not designed to work with electronics or batteries.

Some batteries, such as disposable alkaline batteries, are safely disposed of in the trash. But it’s important to understand what batteries you have and how to store and dispose of them, said Sarah Murray, DNR Electronic Cycle Coordinator in Wisconsin.

“With so many devices in our homes running on batteries of different shapes and types, we know it can be confusing,” Murray said. “We want to help everyone understand how to identify their batteries and where to recycle batteries and electronics.”

Here’s what consumers can do:

  • Learn about the different types of batteries in their homes and how to manage them. The DNR has a guide to recycling household batteries.
  • Take used batteries to local collection points. Check with your battery retailer for information on their battery recycling programs or find nearby sites through the Call2Recycle Battery Recycling Organization’s website or by calling 1-877-2-RECYCLE.
  • Recycle old electronics through E-Cycle Wisconsin. A lot of small electronics can be recycled for free or sold on credit or in cash. Visit the list of collection sites and free programs for DNR return mail.
  • Do not dispose of electronics or rechargeable batteries in rubbish bins or recycling bins. Most electronics are prohibited from being dumped in landfills and incinerators, and it is not recycled at the same plants that recycle plastic, glass and paper.
  • When storing recyclable batteries, seal the terminals or place each battery in an individual plastic bag that prevents accidental sparking of the batteries when the terminals are touched.
  • Store damaged (swollen, bent, punctured or crushed) batteries or devices in sand or litter for kittens and, if possible, contact the manufacturer or Call2Recycle for instructions.
  • Do not attempt to remove non-removable batteries from devices, as this may result in damage.

Businesses and agencies have special requirements to determine what types of batteries they have, and dispose of batteries in accordance with hazardous waste regulations.

For more information, refer to the DNR website for proper disposal of used batteries.


This story was written by Sarah Murray, coordinator of the DNR electronic cycle in Wisconsin

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