Improper battery disposal sparks 3 fires in a month at Santa Rosa Recology facility (2024)

Batteries by law must be properly disposed of, or they can become damaged and spark fires, as happened three times in the past month.|

How to properly dispose of used batteries

State law requires used batteries to be disposed of as hazardous waste, outside the general waste stream, even AAA and AA batteries.

In general, you can bring them to hardware stores, office supply stores and some government offices or any of the outlets listed here.

You can also put them in a sealed plastic bag and place it atop your blue recycling barrel on pickup day.

From remote controls to gaming consoles, e-cigarettes to electric toothbrushes, even singing greeting cards, batteries are everywhere.

When they die, it’s easy to toss them in the trash and forget about them.

But three fires in less than a month’s time at Recology’s materials recovery facility on Standish Avenue in south Santa Rosa demonstrate why we can’t.

All three, including one that destroyed a nearly half-million-dollar piece of equipment, were later linked to household batteries or battery packs that were improperly thrown in recycling bins instead of being disposed of properly.

“What I think people don’t realize is if you hold a battery in your hand, there’s no risk of sparking. They don’t realize when they put it in their recycle bin, there’s a lot of jostling and moving,” said Celia Furber, community relations and sustainability manager for Recology Marin Sonoma. “The truck has a compactor, and there’s scraping that can damage the battery and cause a spark.”

The fires occurred April 30, May 22 and May 24 at the Standish Avenue materials recovery center for Recology Marin-Sonoma, which serves all Sonoma County cities except Windsor and Sonoma, as well as the unincorporated county and five communities in Marin and south Mendocino County.

All three were suppressed by Recology personnel or local firefighters, preventing their spread beyond the site.

In the first instance, a supervisor noticed smoke coming from a pile of materials that soon turned to flames. A loader operator started moving the burning stuff, but several pieces got into the engine compartment before the fire was put out, rendering the loader inoperable, Furber said.

Replacing it will cost about $470,000, she said.

Three weeks later, a loader operator saw smoke and flames again, requiring three fire engines to respond from a nearby station on Todd Road to extinguish the blaze.

Two days after that, a waste hauler was en route to the facility when he smelled smoke coming from his truck. He called ahead to alert personnel of his imminent arrival. When he dumped his load of recyclables in a special “hot load area,” several battery packs were determined to be responsible.

Furber said all three fires were caused by AA or AAA batteries, which can easily be disposed of properly for free, along with other kinds of batteries. Lithium-ion batteries used in many rechargeable electronic devices are especially prone to fire.

CalRecycle, the state’s recycling agency, says batteries are the top cause of fires at California waste facilities, sometimes causing injury, as well as millions of dollars in damage.

State law requires them to be disposed of as hazardous waste, outside the general waste stream. Yet an estimated 7,294 tons of batteries went illegally into landfill in 2021, CalRecycle said, risking leakage of acid and toxic metals and preventing valuable materials used in their manufacture go unrecovered and risking explosion or combustion.

Instead, residents could collect drained batteries for disposal at a variety of hardware, office supply and government sites. They also can be sealed in ziplock bags and left on top of blue recycle bins for curbside pickup.

Rechargeable electronics and other devices with embedded batteries also must be disposed of as e-waste, for which the county has facilities.

To find a battery recycling site near you, consult Call2recycle.org.

“The lithium batteries in cellphones and other electronics are especially dangerous, so it’s really important that these items are disposed of properly,” Furber said.

As for removable batteries, she said, “It’s pretty simple and convenient for our customers to just put the batteries in a sealed bag and place it on top of the bin — we’ll take it from there. That way the batteries won’t interact with any materials that might cause them to spark and cause a fire.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan (she/her) at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On X (Twitter) @MaryCallahanB.

How to properly dispose of used batteries

State law requires used batteries to be disposed of as hazardous waste, outside the general waste stream, even AAA and AA batteries.

In general, you can bring them to hardware stores, office supply stores and some government offices or any of the outlets listed here.

You can also put them in a sealed plastic bag and place it atop your blue recycling barrel on pickup day.

Improper battery disposal sparks 3 fires in a month at Santa Rosa Recology facility (2024)

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