Despite battery fire risks, manufacturers withhold critical product information

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BOSTON — As more and more of the products in our lives get equipped with batteries and electronics, our waste facilities struggle to safely dispose of this waste. Lithium-ion batteries cause most waste facility fires, including 65 percent of California’s waste facility fires in 2017. It is critically important that people don’t just throw items with batteries into the trash or recycling. But even when consumers do the right thing, and send their electronic junk to a specialized waste facility, some devices are so difficult to disassemble that they still pose fire risks.

Waste facilities struggle to properly detach glued-in batteries. Having instructions for safe battery removal would help, but manufacturers have been steadily scaling back how much technical information they provide. As part of Right to Repair reforms introduced in 18 state legislatures across the country, waste facilities would get manuals including that critical information.

“By refusing to give out technical manuals except to authorized repair shops, tech companies place lives at risk — especially those of firefighters,” said U.S. PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign director Nathan Proctor. “It’s outrageous that people who buy the products can’t get an accompanying manual. We need Right to Repair legislation to help consumers, waste facilities and our brave first responders.”


What consumers need to know

Any device with a battery should be disposed of as electronic waste, and not put in other waste streams. You can take e-waste to a Staples or Best Buy store.

Look for the “wheelie bin” icon on devices — that signifies that it must be recycled in an e-waste facility according to EU law.

Many cities and towns have special protocols for electronic waste, and you can check with your waste service provider to get more details. Certain kinds of electronic waste — appliances, batteries and light bulbs — aren’t usually accepted at general municipal waste drives, but cities will often have special drives and locations for items like batteries.

For more information, read this recent expose in the Washington Post by Geoffrey Fowler.