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Dear Wally,

I saw an ad about batteries causing fires. Should I be worried about batteries around my house? If they aren’t supposed to go in the trash or recycling bin, what should I do with them when they’re all used up?

Signed,

Charged up about batteries

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Dear Charged,

Not to scare you, but battery fires are a real problem, especially when batteries are put in the trash or recycling bins.  More often it is a lithium ion battery that is the culprit of a fire occurring in a waste collection vehicle, in the landfill, or on the sorting line at the local materials recovery facility, but most household batteries do have the potential to spark a fire in the right conditions. For example, 9-volt battery contacts touching metal (tossed into a catchall drawer, in the trash can or vehicle’s glove box) could spark a fire although it is a rare occurrence.

Batteries are safe to use, and with rare exceptions (remember the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones?) they do not spontaneously burst into flames. Under normal storage conditions, you don’t need to worry about batteries causing fires. However it is important to treat batteries with care because they are potentially hazardous, particularly when it’s time to dispose of them.

While you might know batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs and other common items containing chemicals are hazardous and are illegal to put in the trash or recycling, it’s not always clear what to do with them. It’s also not unusual for folks to stockpile spent batteries and other household hazardous waste in the closet or garage with good intentions of figuring out what to do with them later.  The solution could be easier than you think.

In some areas, the curbside collection service will accept your household batteries zipped into a clear plastic bag and placed on top of your recycling cart on your regular collection day, or free mail-back options. Check with your curbside service!  If curbside collection is not an option for you, there are free drop-off locations throughout the Salinas Valley. Salinas Valley Recycles accepts batteries at all three of their facilities (King City, Gonzales and Salinas), and the Household Hazardous Waste Facility at the Sun Street Transfer Station in Salinas accepts all kinds of hazardous items for safe disposal, free for residents.

Please tape both sides of button (small circular) batteries and ends of 9-volt batteries before placing in your collection container/bag.

If you find your household is going through a lot of batteries, consider investing in a few sets of rechargeable batteries and chargers. It may cost a little more upfront, but will save significantly in the long run, not just the time and cost of frequently replacing batteries, but their disposal.

Signed,
Wally Waste-Not