As more lithium-ion batteries get discarded and improperly placed in curbside residential waste or recycling collection containers and bags, the safety risks related to their combustibility are increasing.

There is a growing clarion call of concern surrounding the dangers posed by the improper disposal of lithium-ion batteries, which are used to recharge just about everything in our modern world. The waste and recycling industry urgently needs policy solutions to protect our workforce, first responders, and the general public from a crisis of lithium-ion battery fires that are destroying property and endangering lives.

Lithium-Ion Batteries are Ubiquitous
Lithium batteries have gained widespread popularity because they are compact, lightweight, and rechargeable, making them indispensable for our modern, on-the-go lifestyles. Look around your own home and take inventory of how many common household items you own that contain a rechargeable battery. Lithium-ion batteries power everything from electronic devices like cell phones, laptops, e-bikes, e-cigarettes, electronic toothbrushes, and remote controls to the batteries used in electric vehicles and even children’s toys. While not all rechargeable batteries contain lithium, many longer-life batteries increasingly do.

Waste and Recycling Industry Workers, Along with Firefighters and First Responders, are on the Front Lines of this Crisis
As more lithium-ion batteries get discarded and improperly placed in curbside residential waste or recycling collection containers and bags, the safety risks related to their combustibility are increasing. Once in the recycling or waste stream, these batteries get mixed with tons of materials and placed in hot temperatures under significant compression.

“Lithium-ion battery fires caused by improper recycling or disposal are increasingly impacting the waste and recycling industry, resulting in heavy damage to or total losses of our members’ collection trucks and materials recovery facilities,” said National Waste and Recycling Association’s (NWRA) recently departed President and CEO Darrell Smith. “Each of these fires can cost the industry hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars while also endangering the lives of firefighters and first responders who answer the call.”

NWRA Has Crafted Model Legislation that Would Return the Responsibility for Disposal to the Battery Manufacturer or Seller
Passing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation at the state level would offer a significant step forward in addressing the serious risks presented by lithium batteries in the waste stream.

NWRA’s model language, the Battery Fire Prevention Act, was developed based on laws recently passed in California and Washington, DC. The legislation would require battery manufacturers and sellers to develop stewardship plans that create convenient collection systems, arrange for the safe recycling of battery components, and develop adequate funding to ensure a sustainable lithium-battery collection and takeback program.

Importantly, a “Battery Stewardship Plan” would establish a statewide collection system for consumers containing a list of all retailers, manufacturers, producers, distributors, and recyclers who are available for collection and takeback. It would provide a funding mechanism so that collection and takeback is at no cost to the consumer or the last owner and develop plans to prevent consumers from improperly disposing of batteries in regular waste and recycling streams.

A proposed advisory committee would be established to include representatives of local government, environmental non-profits, private haulers, MFR operators, and transfer station and landfill operators.

Until there is a uniform policy approach, representatives of the waste and recycling industry have been discussing what can be done on a more local level. In June, Pennsylvania’s waste and recycling industry, the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center, and state regulators gathered to problem-solve what to do with batteries at the end of their life and how to educate consumers about their safe disposal.

“PWIA members are working hard to avoid fires by spotting and removing batteries at our recycling facilities and fighting fires more effectively when they do start,” said Tim O’Donnell, President of the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association (PWIA). “At the same time, we want the public to know not to put these batteries in their trash bags or recycle bins in the first place.”

Until We Find a Convenient and Consumer-Centric Solution, the General Public is Left to Fend for Themselves
Despite the escalation in fires and national media coverage, there is a dangerous lack of public awareness related to the risks these batteries pose, especially when they are at the end of their useful life and need to be discarded.

The best option for consumers today is to contact their local municipality to tap resources available for local disposal. offers shipping options and community locations, often a Home Depot or Lowe’s, that accept these batteries.

In addition, waste and recycling industry companies are investing in consumer education efforts that raise awareness about these batteries and their safe disposal. Waste Connections, following a fire at their Penn Waste recycling facility, developed a public education campaign called Don’t Start the Fire with consumer-friendly tips and graphics about proper and improper disposal.

However, ad-hoc efforts are not enough. As these batteries get bigger and their uses become more common, industry leaders have called for a publicly funded and coordinated campaign to raise awareness about their safe disposal.

Fires at Recycling Facilities Cost Companies Millions and Hurt the Recycling Industry as a Whole
In July 2021, the U.S. EPA issued a report that found that 64 waste facilities experienced “245 fires that were caused by, or likely caused by, lithium metal or lithium-ion batteries. Among the facilities were MRFs, transportation vehicles (garbage trucks, etc.), landfills, and other waste management industry locations (electronics recyclers, transfer stations, etc.). The included fires occurred between 2013 and 2020 in 28 states and in all 10 EPA Regions.” The EPA stated that they suspected they were underreporting the fires and degree of destruction.

Since that time, the number of devastating fires has only increased. Some of the fires have had little to no impact, while others, like the Penn Waste fire, closed a regional recycling facility for more than a year. That fire destroyed their 96,000-square-foot facility near York, PA in March 2022.

“It was a long year for our team members at our recycling facility,” Division Vice President Mark Pergolese said in a news release. “Our operations were brought to a halt, but we were fortunate and thankful that there were no physical injuries from the fire.”1

“This really serves as a cautionary tale regarding battery safety,” Pergolese continued. “The fire we experienced was at our recycling facility, but these fires can happen anywhere when rechargeable batteries and products containing them are not disposed of properly—in your home, on your property, in our trucks, and at processing facilities.”

Bob Bylone, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center, also makes the case that the supply chain interruption caused by these fires creates unpredictably in the market for recycled items. “When a materials recovery facility experiences shut down, not only does recycling get backed up at the curb, but the manufacturers using recycled resources to make new products are disrupted too,” he said. “This contributes to the reluctance by some manufacturers to use recycled materials in new products and packaging.”

Let’s Not Jeopardize the Safety of Our Waste and Recycling Workers Along with Equipment and Facilities Before we Find the Answers
As lithium-ion batteries become an increasing feature of everyday life, broader public policy and education efforts are urgently needed. Planning and action should be taken to encourage lawmakers to provide more concrete guidelines and practical options to dispose of these materials. As an industry, we can band together to:
• Pass EPR legislation covering lithium-ion batteries to ensure a convenient, safe and environmentally-sound battery stewardship program for the collection and takeback of these batteries and battery-containing products
• Educate our customers about best practices in recycling lithium-ion batteries
• Encourage a publicly funded campaign to raise awareness about the safe disposal of these batteries
• Train our workforces on how to spot lithium batteries in the waste stream and invest in the equipment for handling them
• Host thorough and frequently scheduled material recovery facility tours to routinely teach emergency personnel about the unique emergency response challenges in the MRF environment

If more broad-based policy and education efforts are not implemented, fires caused by improper disposal practices will continue to result in the loss of property, injuries, and, tragically, even human lives. “The waste and recycling industry stands ready to help, but the answers do not lie with us alone,” concluded PWIA’s O’Donnell. | WA


Ripped from the Headlines

Every day, we see news reports about the frequency and severity of lithium-ion battery fires:

• York Daily Record: “1 year after devastating fire, York County recycling facility to reopen”

• New York Times: “How E-Bike Battery Fires Became a Deadly Crisis in New York City”

• Forbes: “FAA: Lithium Battery Incidents on Planes Now Happening More Than Once Per Week”

• Fox23: “Tulsa recycling center expected to reopen seven months after massive fire”

• WGAL: “Fire breaks out in a barn in Lancaster County (East Earl Township) where lithium batteries were stored”

• Gothamist: “Lithium-ion batteries a growing fire hazard in NYC garbage trucks, DSNY says”




The Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association represents the private sector companies that collect and process recyclables and collect and dispose of municipal solid waste in Pennsylvania. PWIA works closely with the National Waste & Recycling Association to advance safe practices in waste collection, processing, and disposal. For more information, visit

The Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center is a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation with a mission to reduce or eliminate barriers that lead to new expanded use of Pennsylvania’s recycled materials. The RMC team brings markets development assistance to a near endless list of stakeholders including entrepreneurs, manufacturers, recycled material processors, collection programs, haulers, and governmental agencies. Building and supporting Pennsylvania’s $22.6B recycling economy, the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center bridges relationships between economic development and use of Pennsylvania’s recycled materials supply. For more information, visit

The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) is a leading voice of the North American waste and recycling industry on advocacy, education, and safety. The industry provides essential services that benefit local communities and businesses by assisting customers in achieving their environmental and sustainability aspirations. For more information, visit