Commonly referred to as "hot loads," many garbage fires are caused by lithium-ion batteries.

Imagine driving to work on a quiet, dark early morning. Out ahead, you see a bright light, but it's too early to be the sun rise. As you approach, you notice the scene becoming hazy. But instead of a soft fog and morning dew, it's smoke and ash. Flames from a fully engulfed garbage truck fill the street with light. You pull over to the side of the road just as fire trucks arrive to the scene. Smoke rises in the air, making it hazardous to breathe. The awful smell of smoldering trash fills the area. Fire fighters rush to battle the flames before the damage spreads to nearby homes and commercial buildings. Now imagine finding out that all of this started because someone threw away a cell phone battery.

This dangerous scenario sounds like something out of a movie, but it really happened. On April 24, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue responded to a garbage truck fire that was reported around 5 a.m. This fire caused irreparable damage and the total loss of a garbage truck. Though the actual cause of the fire is unknown, common causes of garbage fires are cell phone lithium-ion batteries, aerosol cans and flammable chemicals.

"Hot Loads"

A "hot load" is when there is a fire or small combustion in a "load" or the portion of the waste stream that is collected by a truck. In fact, there have been seven reported hot loads in Hillsborough County garbage trucks since December of 2022.

Occurrences are being reported more frequently as lithium-ion batteries, which are common in rechargeable electronics, are becoming more widely used in our daily lives.

Fires can occur in any part of the disposal process. The most common is in the dumpster (or cart), in the trucks, or at one of the solid waste facilities, including landfills. In addition to potential loss of garbage trucks, fires can cause lasting effects to the community.

If a hot load is carried to a facility, it could lead to significant damage. In the case of the Covanta Waste-to-Energy plant in Doral, FL earlier this year, the fire burned for two weeks. It destroyed two large portions of the facility and caused closures of two schools and several public facilities due to air quality concerns.

How to dispose of lithium-ion batteries and hazardous chemicals

Hillsborough County residents can prevent these devastating fires. All lithium-ion batteries or any flammable chemicals should be disposed of at Community Collection Centers or Household Hazardous Waste events. Each battery must be placed in an individual plastic zip close bag for safe transport. Single-use alkaline batteries (common A, AA, AAA, C, D, 9-volt) can be disposed in residential curbside trash carts (not in recycle carts).

There are other convenient options for residents to dispose of batteries and household hazardous waste. Learn the best ways to recycle in the Recycling Guide.

Image Caption: A garbage truck destroyed by fire sits in the middle of the road.
Posted: 3/22/2024, 3:31:10 PM