Without a doubt, the number of smartphone usage has immensely grown over the years. As a matter of fact, 1.54 billion smartphones were sold worldwide in 2017 alone. This is a number that grows year after year– in 2016, the number was 1.49 billion; in 2015, it was 1.42 billion; and the list goes on. The big question though is: what happens to old smartphones when they’re no longer being used?
Some people recycle these phones and give them to other friends and family members as a hand-me-down gift. Not everyone does this and instead, throws away their old phones into the trash as they would normally do so with regular garbage. Unfortunately, doing so can be extremely dangerous as they can cause explosions and a fire danger.
As a way of educating the public about how serious this threat is, California started an awareness campaign this week focusing on this matter. The campaign urges phone owners to properly dispose of old phones and to keep these out of the trash.
One reason why California is paying special attention to this campaign is because of how lithium-ion batteries caused 65% of waste facility fires throughout the state last year. Batteries found in improperly discarded cell phones have a tendency to cause a spark, which can lead to an explosion if it is mixed in with other batteries since they are known to set off a chain reaction. And when this happens, it can cause real damage and be a safety issue for people.
To show the extent of damage these batteries can cause, a good example is the recent five-alarm fire that occurred at a recycling facility based in Queens, New York City. The facility burned for a couple of days. And because of the thick smoke it blew onto the tracks, the fire caused four branches of the Long Island Rail Road to shut down for several hours. The fire took place in March, which was also the same time another recycling plant in Indianapolis shut down due to a fire caused by improperly discarded batteries too.
This concern is not limited to the batteries found in old smartphones. It extends to lithium-ion batteries that are typically found in laptops, cameras, rechargeable power tools., and even electric scooters.
National recycling program, Call2Recycle, pointed out that there is a need to be aware of how we dispose of old batteries. The program, funded by battery manufacturers, shared that 175 million pounds of lithium-ion batteries was sold into the U.S. market in 2017 alone. And as more and more people upgrade their phones, it is only expected to get bigger.
So how do you get rid of an unused battery?
First of all, do not throw them into a regular trash can. Even if you have removed the battery from your phone, they still have some charge left in them to that can cause a spark. This happens when the battery’s terminal (the metal bits) touch a metallic surface. When this occurs, the circuit can close and an electric charge can create a spark; which also creates fires.
Instead of throwing away your old batteries, the best thing you can do is to bring them to a recycling center. This is being offered by Best Buy, Home Depots, and Lowes stores throughout the country. If you decide to put these in with your recycling bin, make sure to wrap them in a closed plastic bag so that it doesn’t come into contact with metal. You can also cover the terminal by wrapping the battery in electrical or duct tape. This way, the terminal won’t be able to close the circuit when it comes in contact with metal.