Avoiding the Spark

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How battery safety education can help reduce safety incidents

September 12, 2018

The Battery Scene

Battery-related fires are making headlines more and more, giving way to the serious impact that trashed batteries can have on people and property. While the mindset may be ‘when power is lost to toss’, batteries that have lost their ability to power products may still retain a considerable charge. As such, they need to be safely handled, transported and responsibly recycled. Doing so can mitigate fires on garbage and recycling trucks and at waste and recycling centers – a growing epidemic that Call2Recycle, Inc. and industry groups devoted to batteries, electronics and power tools are looking to stop.

How Battery Related Fires Happen

There are many factors that can contribute to battery-related fires. Topping the list is throwing batteries in the trash, especially lithium-based batteries. So how do these battery types end up in the garbage? Consumer confusion about proper battery usage, handling and disposal further enhanced by mixed messages from county governments and local organizations could be a contributor in some instances. Some may advocate to trash single-use (primary) batteries, which can be troublesome for consumers as single-use batteries can be similar in look and function as rechargeable batteries. Once these batteries enter the waste stream with unprotected terminals, they are exposed to a variety of scenarios that increase the chance for a safety incident. Be it bouncing off metal and other materials inside a garbage truck or being punctured/crushed onsite at a waste facility, the risk is ever-present. Add to that damaged batteries that are bloated or bent (often a result of consumers trying to extract batteries from products that are not meant to have batteries removed) and the possibility of a spark increases.

Move to Action

A few years back, Call2Recycle, Inc. commissioned a research report with Nielsen to better understand the awareness level of battery recycling among U.S. consumers. The findings showed that while 66% of those surveyed were aware of battery recycling in their communities, that only 41% participated in battery recycling. Of the same group, 60% said they trashed single-use batteries and 15% trashed rechargeable batteries. The knowledge gap is not only getting consumers to stop trashing batteries but to understand what happens after these batteries enter the waste stream and the havoc they can and are creating at waste and recycling facilities nationwide. The challenge remains reaching the mainstream audience and turning knowledge into action.

Be Battery Safety Smart

To make an impact on these incidents, more battery safety education is needed. One such effort is the Avoid the Spark. Be Battery Safety Smart.TM campaign led by Call2Recycle, Inc. in conjunction with industry groups devoted to batteries, electronics and power tools. By sharing the ‘hidden dangers’ and ways to properly protect and recycle batteries, the campaign’s goal is to reduce risks around battery use, handling and transport. The campaign continues this fall with the goal of activating organizations and consumers to adopt safe battery practices. In terms of protecting and supporting recycling centers and waste facilities against potential fires, these types of programs and activities are the path forward. Visit call2recycle.org to stay connected on the Avoid the Spark campaign and to access resources on battery safety and battery recycling.

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