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TRASH TALK: Proper battery recycling and disposal are crucial

Some household batteries may contain toxic metals like mercury, lead, cadmium and silver, which can contaminate our air and water when the batteries are incinerated or disposed of in a landfill. Eventually, these metals can accumulate in living tissue and cause adverse health effects.

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Minnesota prohibits rechargeable batteries and products with non-removable rechargeable batteries from being disposed of in mixed municipal waste, this also includes lithium and lead acid batteries.

What is the problem?

Each year over two billion household batteries are purchased in the United States to power a variety of products.

Some household batteries may contain toxic metals like mercury, lead, cadmium and silver, which can contaminate our air and water when the batteries are incinerated or disposed of in a landfill. Eventually, these metals can accumulate in living tissue and cause adverse health effects.

Lithium battery fires have become much too common in the waste industry. Between Beltrami County and Hubbard County, we have had some type of battery fire at least every three months, sometimes more often in the past couple of years.

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Beltrami County has been lucky because the fires have been isolated and have not been next to a large volume of fuel. These fires occur when batteries are not properly sorted and handled and become damaged, which alters the chemistry of the battery and makes it ignite.

Once a battery is used up or no longer useful, the battery’s chemistry will determine how best to dispose of it.

Look on the battery’s label or packaging to identify what it is made of, then use this guide to identify the safe disposal method.

Step 1: Collect and sort your batteries by type. Batteries that must be recycled include rechargeable batteries, lithium and lead acid. Alkaline batteries are safe to place in the trash.

Step 2: Tape all battery terminals with clear tape/or place each battery in a clear plastic bag.

Step 3: Find a battery recycler. Some retail stores have these available (you may want to call first), or you can bring them to one of the Beltrami County Transfer Stations or Remote Transfer Sites and place the battery in the battery recycling container located at each site.

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A battery recycling bin is pictured at the recycling station on 23rd Street NW behind Target in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

For more information, visit our website co.beltrami.mn.us/Departments/Solid%20Waste/Solid%20Waste or the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website at www.pca.state.mn.us/hhw.

Brian Olson is the solid waste administrator and public works safety coordinator for Beltrami County. He can be reached at  brian.olson@co.beltrami.mn.us.

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Residents need to understand that just because you think something is recyclable doesn’t mean it is, this is called “wish cycling.” Please read the signs and follow the directions when visiting one of Beltrami County’s Solid Waste facilities or sites. 

Related Topics: BELTRAMI COUNTY
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