Hennepin County will no longer collect batteries for recycling at community locations because of a fire hazard, the county announced in an Oct. 30 news release.
The decision comes after a vape pen led to a small fire at the Westonka Library in Mound on Oct. 15. Staff at the library noticed the bin smoking and rolled it outside, and then the fire department put out the fire inside the bin, Angie Timmons, strategic initiatives manager with Hennepin County's Environment and Energy Department, said in an email to Southwest News Media.
"Environment and Energy staff investigated the cause of the fire and discovered that a vape pen was on and was up against a large lithium-ion battery. These batteries will start on fire or explode if the plastic case is punctured," Timmons said. "The specific problem with vape pens is that many have a push-button activator, which turns on the heat with very little pressure. In addition, it is difficult to remove the battery from the casing and requires tools, so residents dispose of these items with the batteries intact."
Timmons noted that due to the increased use, the size of lithium-ion batteries, and the number of vape pens/e-cigarette handles found in battery collection containers, the county can no longer collect the devices in community locations. Such community locations included city and county buildings, libraries, schools and community centers, the release said.
Hennepin County will continue to accept batteries at the county’s drop-off facilities in Bloomington and Brooklyn Park, and the county says there are other options for getting rid of old batteries, depending on the type of battery. They include:
- Alkaline batteries (single-use AA, AAA, etc.): Because these types of batteries don’t have any hazardous material, you can throw them in the trash. The county also accepts them at its drop-off facilities and will recycle them.
- Button batteries, lithium-ion and rechargeable batteries: These batteries have toxic metals and pose a threat if they aren’t disposed of properly, so the county says they should be brought to a drop-off facility or hazardous waste collection event. If you can’t remove the battery from the device, bring the entire device to a county drop-off facility, which are located in Brooklyn Park and Bloomington. Other drop-off locations can be found at Call2Recycle.org.
To prevent fires, the county urges people to place batteries in a plastic bag or place clear tape on both the positive and negative ends of batteries and to bring bulging or damaged lithium-ion batteries to a drop-off facility as soon as possible — do not throw them in the recycling or trash.