Prevent Fires by Recycling Batteries Properly

Batteries ignite about 3-5 fires per month at the solid waste facility. Most of them are extinguished while they are still small, but all fires have the potential to be disastrous. The fire pictured above happened in August 2018. A well-meaning community member tossed a battery in the recycling bin, hoping to recycle it. At some point during transport or processing, the battery caused a spark, setting the surrounding paper and cardboard ablaze. A quick-thinking recycling worker noticed smoke and jumped into the bulldozer to push the inferno outside. First responders arrived and helped to stifle the flames before they spread to the building. You can help prevent fires by keeping batteries out of the trash and conventional recycling.  


Help Spread the Word – Be Alert Toolkit

You can help spread the word that batteries don't belong in the trash or recycling by sharing the resources in the Be Alert Campaign Toolkit. More info about how to use it below.

 


Where to Recycle Batteries 

Batteries can and should be recycled, but they cannot be recycled with the normal commingled or curbside recycling stream. Instead, recycle them at a trusted battery recycling site.

Recycling Site Accepted battery types Website Notes
Larimer County Household Hazardous Waste Alkaline, lead-acid, lithium, rechargeable larimer.org/solidwaste/haz Accepted only from Larimer County residents businesses. Residents recycle for free. Fees apply for businesses.
Fort Collins Timberline Recycling Center Alkaline, lead acid, lithium, rechargeable

fcgov.com/recycling/dropoff

Residents recycle for free. Fees apply for businesses.
Loveland Recycling Center Alkaline, lead-acid, lithium, rechargeable cityofloveland.org/departments/public-works/trash-recycling Free. Batteries are accepted from businesses on a case-by-case basis.
Call2Recycle Alkaline, lithium, rechargeable www.call2recycle.org/locator/ Use the locator to find a drop-off.
Batteries Plus Bulbs Lead-acid, lithium, rechargeable www.batteriesplus.com/store-locator Use the locator to find a drop-off.
Interstate Batteries Lead-acid interstatebatteries.com/recycling  
Rocky Mountain Battery Lead-acid rmbrecycling.com Fees apply.

 


Battery Identification

No Tape Required
Tape Both Ends with Clear Tape*
Bag Each Battery Separately

Alkaline

Lead Acid

Lithium

Rechargeable

alkaline_batteries_1.png lead acid battery lithium_batteries_1.png rechargeable_batteries.png

Most single-use batteries are alkaline.

Find them in:

  • flashlights
  • toys
  • remote controls
  • smoke detectors
  • other electronics

Lead acid batteries (automotive batteries) are blocky and bulky.

Find them in:

  • cars
  • boats
  • ride-on toys
  • older electric scooters
  • back-up batteries

Lithium batteries are single-use. They will be labeled "Lithium" or "CR."

Find them in:

  • watches
  • key fobs
  • toys
  • other small electronics

Rechargeable batteries are made for repeated use.

Find them in cordless devices like:

  • power tools
  • toys
  • cell phones
  • other electronics

*Use clear tape so recycling workers can read the battery labels.


Help Spread the Word! – Be Alert Campaign Toolkit 

You can help spread the word that batteries don't belong in the trash or recycling by sharing the resources in the Be Alert Campaign Toolkit.

Toolkit

How to use the toolkit:

Toolkit resources are stored in a Google Drive Folder. Click on the "Toolkit" button to explore!

Social Media Posts: Inside the social media posts folder you will find a folder with social media posts numbered 1-10. You will also find a word document that includes corresponding text for each post, and a recommended schedule for a 2 or 4-week social media campaign. Simply download the images folder and copy and paste the corresponding text into the posting tool on your social media platform to create a social media post.

Posters and Fact Sheets: Print and hang them around your home or workplace!

Newsletter Blurbs and Talking Points: Browse the document titled "Newsletter Blurbs and Talking Points" to find a short article or 2-3 sentence blurb that fits your newsletter, website, or publication. 

Images For the Web: Find an image in 72 dpi to accompany your newsletter or web piece here. 

Images for Newsletters: Find a higher resolution for print applications. 

Battery fires affect the entire waste system in Larimer County, from trash haulers to the landfill. Here are some stories about battery-caused fires in Larimer County.

Loveland 2019 Truck Fire

Photo credit Tyler Bandemer

Photo Credit: Tyler Bandemer

Tyler Bandemer, Loveland's Solid Waste Superintendent has this story:  "We have had one truck fire (in 2019) where there were lithium ion batteries inside that created the ignition source.  After discovering that it was these batteries, we drove through the neighborhood where it occurred and right away, we saw a commercial vehicle that was emblazoned with the company name that had to do with batteries.  We knocked on the door and the owner was very surprised to see us.  He was apologetic and we told him “no harm no foul this time”, and we also warned him that he would not want to be responsible for burning a $350k trash truck to the ground.  He should have known better than to bring stuff home from his business and throw it in his residential waste stream."

 The Takeaway: Putting waste from a commercial waste in the residential system is not OK. There are plenty of resources for businesses to dispose of batteries properly. Check out the battery recycling resources for businesses section on the Business Hazardous Waste Page. 

Gallegos Sanitation

Gallegos Trash Truck Fire

Photo Credit: Gallegos Sanitation, Inc.

What is photographed above are the disastrous results of lithium batteries catching on fire coupled with fireworks exploding directly in Gallegos Sanitation's trash truck in July of 2020. These items were disposed of from two different households while our trash truck was on route, but they both had one thing in common: They were carelessly thrown away and produced unintended consequences.

This combination had the ability to cause a wreck, cause bodily injuries or be fatal . Thankfully, this driver was not injured in the explosion, which took place in the body of the truck, also known as a hopper, all adding up to a very a terrifying experience, no doubt. 

We credit the driver's quick thinking and GSI's extensive safety training program in this matter. This situation all could have been avoided if the correct hazardous waste disposal rules would have been followed.

The Takeaway: Everyone should find out how to properly dispose of their waste. If GSI is your hauler, check out their WasteWizard,  or call them at (970) 484-5556 when in doubt.

Batteries discarded in the trash or recycling end up at a transfer station,* landfill or recycling center. Batteries are essentially stored chemical energy. There are many ways this energy could be converted to heat when they enter the trash and conventional recycling stream.
1. Battery Short

Any battery can have an electrical short. When a battery is in the trash or conventional recycling stream, it is intermingled with lots of other materials, including good electrical conductors, like wire or metal. If a battery's terminal ends are connected (for example, if the same piece of metal touches both the positive and negative end of the battery) energy flows quickly from the battery. This is an electrical short. The rapid flow of energy during a short causes the battery to heat up. This could ignite a trash or recycling fire. (More information here.)

2. Lithium Metal Batteries

Lithium metal batteries, also known as primary cells, are for single use. They are capable of storing more energy than their rechargeable lithium-ion counterparts. You may be familiar with them as coin cells. When lithium metal cells enter the trash and conventional recycling stream, they may be crushed or punctured by compacting trash trucks or heavy equipment at landfills or recycling centers. When damaged, the lithium metal inside may react with water in the air, creating heat and, possibly, a fire. 

3. Lithium Ion Batteries

Lithium ion batteries have a delicate internal structure that allows them to store large amounts or energy. Trash trucks and heavy equipment crush and damage batteries, destroying the inner workings that make lithium-ion batteries safe for normal use. A damaged battery may undergo an internal short that causes "thermal runaway" in the battery. The battery's temperature rises quickly, causing it to burst into flame or explode.

Batteries must be handled with care every step of the way to prevent improper releases of energy as heat. Separate batteries from your normal trash and recycling and recycle them properly. 

*At a Transfer Station, trash is tipped onto a concrete pad, bulldozed into trash compactors, then trucked away to a landfill.

Batteries can and should be recycled, but they cannot be recycled with the normal commingled or curbside recycling stream. Instead, recycle them at a trusted battery recycling site.

Recycler Accepted battery types Website Notes
Larimer County Household Hazardous Waste Alkaline, lead acid, lithium, rechargeable larimer.org/solidwaste/haz Larimer County residents and businesses. Fees apply for businesses.
Fort Collins Timberline Recycling Center Alkaline, lead acid, lithium, rechargeable

fcgov.com/recycling/dropoff

Fees apply for businesses.
Loveland Recycling Center Alkaline, lead acid, lithium, rechargeable cityofloveland.org/departments/public-works/trash-recycling Fees may apply.
Call2Recycle Alkaline, lithium, rechargeable batteriesplus.com/t/recycling/battery Use the locator to find a drop-off.
Batteries Plus Bulbs Lead acid, lithium, rechargeable batteries.com/t/recycling/battery Use the locator to find a drop-off.
Interstate Batteries Lead acid interstatebatteries.com/recycling  
Rocky Mountain Battery Lead acid rmbrecycling.com  

 

 

Damaged battery

Damaged, defective, expanded and recalled batteries are especially hazardous and should be treated with extreme caution. Damage or expansion indicates that an internal chemical reaction has begun and the battery is unstable. If you have damaged, defective, expanded, or recalled batteries:

1. Bag them individually in sealable plastic bags.
2. Take them to a hazardous waste facility as soon as practical.
3. If you must store them at home before disposal, consider putting them in kitty litter or another non-flammable substance and keep them away from moisture and heat.
4. If the battery becomes hot, smokes, leaks electrolyte, or develops flames, get it outside and on a non-flammable surface, like a cement pad. Let the reaction take its course. You can put out a fire with a normal fire extinguisher, but be aware that even if the flames are out a chain reaction may occur in the battery, causing it to flare up again. After the reaction is complete, put it in a non-flammable substance like kitty litter and take it to a hazardous waste facility.

More information:

Call2Recycle's Damaged, Defective, and Recalled Batteries Information Page Battery University Lithium Ion Safety Concern's Page


 

Many vape devices use lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are at heightened risk for fire or explosion. Find out how to handle them safely below. 

Storage:                     
Temperature Clear bag
No keys

Temerature fluctuations can damage batteries.

Store batteries near room temperature and avoid storing in environments that experience wide temperature extremes, such as in a car.

Short circuits can cause batteries to catch on fire. 

Protect the terminals (ends of a battery) to avoid short circuits. 

Store loose batteries in a resealable plastic bag or plastic case.

Don't store batteries with keys or coins.

The metal can accidentally connect the battery terminals, causing a short. 

 
  Outlet and charger
Charging: 

Use the charger that came with the vaping device to charge batteries properly. Avoid charging using USB outlets on tablets, laptops, or PCs. Avoid overcharging, and never leave charging batteries unattended.

 

  Ohm              
Vape coil resistance setting: 

Know the proper current draw through the vaping coil to be within the safety limits of the battery. 

I= V/R 

I = Current (amps); V = Voltage (volts); R = Resistance (ohms) 

Example: A 18650 battery has 3.7 volts with a 10 amp limit and a coil resistance setting of 0.5Ω. The calculated current draw is 7.4 amps which is below the 10 amp limit. 

 

Battery wrap

Battery wrap:

Do not use batteries with damaged or stained wrapping. Batteries with damaged or removed wraps must be recycled properly. 


Battery recycling

Recycling: 

Properly recycle lithium batteries, old vaping batteries, and all other batteries at a Household Hazardous Waste facility or reliable battery recycler. 

 

Understanding Battery Disposal for Businesses

It is every business’s responsibility to identify the waste they generate and determine which regulations pertain to its disposal or recycling. Some categories of waste include:

  1. Solid Waste: typically no special requirements however you may need to check with your local landfill for specifics.
  2. Hazardous Waste: stringent regulations must be followed.
  3. Universal Waste: a subset of hazardous waste, Universal Waste is a category that was created to encourage recycling of certain waste streams by making it easier to manage these wastes.

Most batteries fit the definition of Hazardous Waste due to a characteristic of toxicity or reactivity. However, because batteries are so widely used, they are one of a few Hazardous Wastes that can be managed under the Universal Waste rules. 

To understand Universal Waste rules pertain to batteries, read through this guidance from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

The bottom line is that businesses are responsible for following all regulations pertinent to the disposal of batteries, but there are several options available to them for disposal. 

Hazardous Waste Building

Hazardous Waste Contact Information

5887 S. Taft Hill Road
Fort Collins, CO 80526

Phone: (970) 498-5771 or (970) 498-5773
24-hour information line: (970) 498-5770

Hours
Residential: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. (Closed to the public Wednesday)
Business: Wedensday by Appointment Only

www.larimer.org/solidwaste/haz