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.


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Prevent Cigarette Butt Pollution

Milbrae Receptacle

Have you seen this receptacle before?  In 2016, four cigarette butt receptacles were installed in downtown Millbrae to help smokers have a place to stash their cigarette butts. The receptacles installed reduced butts by 49% near the installation area over a four month period.

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There’s a New Refillable in Town!


Four million disposable one pound propane cylinders are sold every year in California alone.  Consumers are spending around $4.00+ per disposable cylinder, just to be able to use about $0.30 worth of propane gas inside.

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Green Grocery Shopping

Make your next grocery shopping experience a little greener!

Make your next grocery shopping experience a little greener!

Shopping green isn’t just about remembering your reusable bag. There are many other choices while grocery shopping that benefit the environment and your health.

The very first green choice you can make comes before you grab your reusable bags and head to the store; it starts with making your grocery list! As you make your list, check kitchen cupboards and your refrigerator. You may still have vegetables that can be incorporated into the upcoming week’s menu. Not only will you save money by not having to buy extra items, you will be helping to reduce food waste. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that we waste 30-40 percent of our food in the U.S.

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Safer Cleaning Products are Right in Your Kitchen Cabinet!

Safer cleaning alternatives may be things you already have at home!

Safer cleaning alternatives may be things you already have at home!

By Cynthia Knowles, Pollution Prevention Specialist, San Mateo County Environmental Health

Spring is upon us and many of you will open your windows and doors for a spring cleaning. And when you do, we’re here to help you make cleaning choices that are safer for you and the environment. You can breathe easy knowing that there are lots of simple switches you can make that safely clean most surfaces in your home.

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Beyond the Bag – Going the Extra Eco Mile

Let's fo

Let’s go the extra eco mile in our pollution solution resolutions.

We enjoyed reading and appreciate your responses to our Pollution Solution Resolution blog posted on December 29, 2015. In light of receiving so many innovative and forward-thinking practices that save resources and money, we’d like to offer ideas that go “Beyond the Bag.” So many of you told us that you already practice our suggestions and essentially are Going the Extra Eco Mile. We are committed to sharing your ideas through our Environmental Health Services blog. Here’s what we heard from you:

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A Sustainable Sweetheart Celebration

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

Like most couples, my fiancé always celebrated Valentine’s Day by presenting me with sweet smelling lilies and roses, a card filled with kind words, and a variety of pink and red balloons. The aroma of flowers would fill the air with the smell of love and the balloons were a cheerful and festive decoration to wake up to in the morning and to come home to in the evening. Continue reading

Spotlight on Our Shores

Rockaway Beach sunset by C. Knowles

Rockaway Beach sunset by C. Knowles

By Cynthia Knowles, Pollution Prevention Specialist, San Mateo County Environmental Health

I have the honor of living in what I believe to be one of the most striking, beautiful places anywhere – the San Mateo County coast. And it’s full of wonders. Pedro Point sunsets, whales swimming alongside surfers at Montara state beach, Mavericks beach…Dually exhilarating AND calming.

For some, a sense of place is not just an address, but a personal experience, relationship or connection; an area rich in unique characteristics, including cultural ones, that make it special. My strong attachment to a sense of place helps define who I am and where I belong.

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