A second Madison recycling truck caught fire last month. The cause, as in a similar case earlier this year, was most likely due to a lithium battery.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announced the problem at a weekly press conference. “I’m sorry to say that we have had another fire in a recycling truck. This is the second time this year, and I just have to emphasize that this happens because people put things in their recycling that do not belong in their recycling.”
Bryan Johnson is the Madison Recycling coordinator for the city. According to him battery fires have been a growing problem across the country. “Lithium polymer batteries in particular are known to spark, and if you have something like that that gets compacted the right way or damaged the right way, and it goes off in a truck full of paper, its going to catch on fire.”
Rechargeable lithium batteries, like those in cell phones or other small electronics, are especially hazardous. They hold some residual charge even after use, and can spark when struck. The back of garbage and recycling trucks have a combination of movement, and flammable material like paper and so they are a common site for battery fires.
Batteries, no matter what the type, cannot be put into trucks. Instead, batteries must be taken to a drop-off sites like the ones operated by the Madison Streets Division. Alternatively, some hardware stores accept rechargeable batteries for recycling, and there are battery drop-off sites across the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
Before taking lithium or nickel batteries for disposal, be sure to tape the contact points with clear tape. This ensures that the batteries cannot start fires when they are disposed of. Also tape all batteries of 12 volts or more.
“Remember, only you can prevent recycling truck fires,” says Mayor Rhodes-Conway.
A full description of how to dispose of batteries can be found at the city’s recyclopedia. Batteries that are delivered to the city drop-off sites will be recycled.