A Little Battery, A Lot of Harm



Improper battery recycling poses a huge risk to employees and the community

Around 8:30 p.m. on September 7, 2016, employees at the Shoreway Environmental Center’s materials recovery facility (MRF) in San Carlos had just started processing materials after a meal break when they noticed something was terribly wrong.

A small fire had started in one of the automated screens that mechanically separates mixed paper from other recyclables. The fire quickly spread deeper into the facility as materials continued to be conveyed.

“Staff sprang into action and began extinguishing the fires they could access,” said Dwight Herring, General Manager of South Bay Recycling who operates the RethinkWaste*-owned facility. “It was emanating thick, acrid black smoke and the supervisor at the time made the call to evacuate.”

While there were thankfully no injuries, the building interior and processing equipment suffered extensive fire, smoke and water damage — damage significant enough to suspend the facility’s ability to process recyclable materials. After examining the site, fire investigators strongly suspected the ignition source was likely a lithium-ion battery.

It was three months before the MRF could start processing materials again, and an entire year before the building and damaged equipment were fully restored. During this time, some employees were temporarily laid-off while repairs were made.

After the repairs were finished, the facility’s insurance coverage cost increased significantly, ultimately impacting user rates. “Just because the facility shut down doesn’t mean the material flow stopped. We had to make arrangements to have third party haulers come in and remove that material,” Herring said.

Since the fire, the facility has increased staff fire safety training and installed additional fire suppression equipment throughout the MRF, including improved sprinkler systems and an automatic plant-wide system shutdown in the event of fire. But those safety measures can only do so much.

What the Shoreway facility and all haulers in San Mateo County really need is for residents to make sure batteries don’t get put into their recyclables or trash. “When you’re discarding a battery, and you’re discarding it inappropriately — whether it’s the black cart or the blue cart — you’re basically putting a bomb in that container. It takes very little damage to a lithium-ion battery for it to explode,” he said. “You’re literally putting an incendiary device into a pile of paper.”

Recycle your Batteries Right, contact your local waste hauler for recycling options, or visit RecycleStuff.org


Reduce, Recharge, Recycle

Measuring with digital multimeter of rechargeable battery

A multi meter is used to test battery life.

Batteries charge our world and power the devices that make our lives convenient. In an effort to reduce the amount of waste we generate, here are some simple tips for household battery use.

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Ditch the Disposables

Calling all campers! Beckoning all BBQers! Tempting all tailgaters! Summer is approaching, and we know you’ll be fueling up your portable stoves and barbeques to grill up the juiciest hot dogs and roast the perfect veggies. That means it’s time to go reusable with 1lb. propane cylinders.


Campers power their portable stove with a refillable 1lb. cylinder.


Why go reusable? Continue reading

San Mateo County Wins Exciting Awards

Elizabeth Rouan and her award.

Elizabeth Rouan and her award.

San Mateo County attended a statewide conference in early November and came back with two awards we are very proud to share!

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Environmental Health Tips

ehtipsIn honor of tomorrow (October 5) being “National Do Something Nice Day,” Environmental Health Services (EHS) is relaying answers to some of its most frequently asked questions from the public and businesses.

From food inspections to hazardous waste dumping and everything in between, read on for useful tips that may come in handy in the future.

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Environmental Health Helps Clear Invasive Species at San Bruno Mountain

Environmental Health Services staff helping out at San Bruno Mountain.

Environmental Health Services staff helping out at San Bruno Mountain.

On a foggy San Mateo County day, 35 Environmental Health Services employees volunteered to help remove invasive plants on the Bog Trail near Colma Creek at San Bruno Mountain State and County Park.

Staff spent two hours working with the San Mateo County Parks Department to remove invasive species like Cape Ivy, Radish and Poison Hemlock from taking over local native plant habitats covering over a quarter acre.

We thoroughly enjoyed being outside despite the dreary weather.

Check out some of our photos below:

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Are Pests Bugging You?

Use less-toxic pest control methods to help you get rid of or prevent unwanted pests.

Use less-toxic pest control methods to help you get rid of or prevent unwanted pests.

Unwanted pests can create health risks for people. Cockroaches and rodents can cause allergies and asthma in children. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a less-toxic pest control method that reduces and prevents pest safely by denying them what they need to infest: shelter, food and water. These creepy uninvited pests need notice-you’re in charge and they’re not welcome! Here’s what you can do:

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What is the big deal about the elephant seal?

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park.

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park by K. Cooke.

By Kathryn Cooke, Pollution Prevention Specialist, San Mateo County Environmental Health

I first became fascinated with elephant seals during an ecology class in college. The class required students to spend the entire semester researching and then writing a big report on one topic. With most of the more interesting topics gone by the time the list reached me, I took a gamble and committed myself to researching an unknown animal to me: the elephant seal. When I look back, I remember thinking, how exciting can this animal really be?

As I started diving into the research and interviewing the scientists who studied them, my interest for the species quickly grew. When I finally took the guided tour at Año Nuevo State Park in San Mateo County my passion and fascination for them became apparent as my paper slowly came together.

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Environmental Health Services: Who are we and what we accomplished in 2015

ehlogoEnvironmental Health Services is a division within San Mateo County Health System that ensures the restaurants you frequent are safe, the hotels your family and friends stay at are pest free, and residents and businesses that live or operate in this County are properly disposing of hazardous waste. Our Division is also responsible for protecting water by making sure septic tanks and groundwater are managed properly, graywater is used safely, and so much more! There are approximately 70 of us working on a variety of programs, including our amazing administrative staff.

Now that you know a little more about us, we want to tell you about some of our major accomplishments in 2015. Continue reading

Graywater Do’s and Don’ts

A potential silver lining to California’s lack of rain clouds may be that many Californians are rethinking their relationship with water. Many people are looking for methods to conserve water and use water more efficiently. One method that has gained popularity is using graywater for irrigation.

While different definitions of graywater exist, the California Plumbing Code includes wastewater from bathtubs, showers, bathroom sinks, clothes washing machines, and laundry tubs as being sources of graywater. Wastewater from toilets, utility sinks, kitchen sinks, or dishwashers is considered blackwater and cannot be used for graywater systems. Just as there are many definitions of what water sources constitute graywater, there are different ways graywater can be utilized for beneficial uses like outdoor landscape irrigation water.

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