Blog Post

Lithium-Ion Batteries: Divert—NOT Recycle

Waste Expo 2023

On May 2, Rumpke attended the 2023 Waste Expo in New Orleans, Louisiana, the international trade show for the waste and recycling industry. Several Rumpke team members were featured speakers during the professional development sessions. Logan Miller, Region recycling manager for Columbus’s Material Recovery Facility (MRF), gave an insightful presentation on the damage and harm lithium-ion batteries cause to our facilities and how Rumpke mitigates the risk.

As we prepare to unfold our state-of-the-art Recycling and Resource Center also located in Columbus, we prioritized the engineering of a sophisticated fire defense system.

Battery-related fires pose an incredible risk for all waste and recycling processors, threatening our employees and infrastructure daily. In 2022, the Columbus MRF faced 70 fires—66 of which were linked to batteries in the stream. That’s over one fire a week throughout the year.

The Lethality of Lithium-ion Batteries

A lithium-ion battery is lightweight, rechargeable and emits a stronger energy surge for longer periods of time, making them a popular selection among producers. They’re used in cell phones, cameras, laptops, power tools and many more.

However, they’re also more fragile and emit dangerous heat levels and particularly destructive fires. Their small sizes slip through the material stream, and our added inability to stop some equipment during processing results in inevitable fires that endanger employees and assets.

Commitment to Safety

Equipped with more than 90 years of experience, Rumpke is committed to investing in and researching comprehensive procedures and advanced technologies to ensure safety and productivity.

At our new Columbus facility, we will implement several solutions to effectively prevent and respond to fires such as proper housekeeping and walk-throughs, establishing a preventative electrical fire maintenance program, and installing detection systems that detect heat and systematically stop our conveyors or extinguish fires.

The Fire Rover thermal camera monitors the heat levels of the material piles. Heat triggers Fire Rover personnel to quickly review the footage and confirm a fire before engaging a spray nozzle. The spray accurately targets and extinguishes the hot spot for up to eight minutes while the local fire department is en-route.

Miller explains the fire mitigation process, “When a fire occurs, we spring into action and use reach poles to move the battery into a red container and then shovel sand inside to starve the batteries of oxygen. Then we send it out near the glass tower for fire watch.”

Defensive Design

We leverage our experience at the current Columbus MRF by applying proactive and reactive measures to the blueprint of the new facility. We will have 223,000 sq. ft. of infrastructure for personnel, guests, material and state-of-the-art sorting machinery to protect.

“The safety of our people is #1, and protecting assets is #2. Productivity and innovation follow,” Miller stated.

This $95 million investment in sustainability and advancement requires all the experience and resources available. Identifying every battery in the stream is a strenuous variable in the operation, but we believe in solutions.

Our Maintenance Review team has met weekly over the past year to rigorously engineer security measures that are on par with our vision for the new MRF. This team is made up of Rumpke personnel, Machinex (the sorting equipment manufacturer), the building contractor, safety management, and 3rd party fire experts.

Responsibility & Education

When we dispose of our unneeded items, we rarely consider those who handle the product at the end of its lifecycle and the risks it may pose if it’s hazardous. 

“Ultimately, the folks in our industry are the ones dealing with the fire. Our employees are exposed, and our assets are at risk. These are the cards we’ve been dealt. It’s all about how we respond.” Miller said.

Education is crucial but will only work with comprehensive responsibility and accountability from all haulers, producers, marketplaces, and residents and townships in the following ways:

Waste and recycling facilities continue to prepare for potential fires and detect batteries in the stream. Battery producers and product engineers consider the end-of-life journey of their products. Marketplaces indicate disposal care at the point of sale. Finally, legislation subsidizes robust and accessible hazardous waste drop-off sites.

Do not dispose of used batteries in the trash or recycling. Rather, we encourage you to hold onto them and contact your local solid waste authority to identify household hazardous waste drop-offs in your area.

Only through awareness and collective effort can we conserve our resources and assure the health and well-being of our communities. 

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