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Solid Waste Department Discovers Smoldering Battery-Powered Device in Transfer Station

You may be aware that rechargeable batteries exist in cell phones, laptops or rechargeable tools, but those found inside a Battery-Containing Device (BCD) may be less obvious. Some examples include the batteries in your Roombas, smart watches, Bluetooth devices, game controllers, children's toys, or electric toothbrushes & razors. Winnebago County Solid Waste is urging all residents to remove & properly recycle rechargeable batteries before disposing of battery-containing devices. So why is removing batteries so important?


Near closing time a few weekends ago, a Winnebago County Solid Waste employee smelled a pungent smoke coming from a waste pile in the transfer facility building.

After locating the smoldering device, the employee removed it from the building and within seconds, the batteries inside burst into flames. It was successfully extinguished but had it gone unnoticed, the device (later identified as a battery-powered unicycle) could have ignited other waste materials, causing activation of our fire suppression system and a full response by our fire department. While fire suppression systems are in place to help protect the building, fighting fire puts lives at risk and uses resources t

hat are needed elsewhere.


Although a potential fire was avoided this time, it is not uncommon for solid waste & recycling facilities to experience fires due to the unsafe disposal of rechargeable batteries & BCDs. BCDs are easily damaged in traditional waste collection methods & the batteries inside are known to spontaneously combust when pinched, smashed, or otherwise damaged. "Both garbage & recycling can catch on fire easily and it spreads fast," says Jessica Hanson, Solid Waste Communications & Program Development Specialist. "Residents need to understand that additional steps may be required to dispose of materials that are not common household waste. Taking a few extra steps will help keep our solid waste workers safe & public services fully functional."


So how are residents to know which batteries may spark a fire? When it comes to BCDs, remember your ABCs! Before throwing items in the trash, first Ask yourself – did you need to charge the device for it to function? Many items that get plugged in to charge and then run on their own likely contain a rechargeable battery. Next, is there a power Button? If it has a power button, it likely has stored electrical energy in a battery pack. And finally, is there a Caution label on the device? The label will show if a device contains high-powered rechargeable batteries. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, use Tri-County Recycling's Waste Wizard (www.RecycleMoreTriCounty.org) to determine if you should recycle the item as e-waste. If not, then remove the battery before disposing of the device in your household garbage. Recycle rechargeable batteries for free at locations such as Winnebago County Solid Waste or local home improvement stores. Note: alkaline batteries do not pose a fire risk and are safe for garbage disposal.

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