Powering Down Safely: The Urgent Need for L/Li Battery Disposal Education

by Stephen Aber

Lithium and lithium-ion (L/Li) batteries are practically ubiquitous. They’re found in consumer devices like cellphones, tablets, e-bikes, and – increasingly – in electric vehicles. While the compact size and substantial energy storage of these batteries have revolutionized portable power, the improper disposal of these batteries is leading to an increasingly hazardous situation, causing significant and deadly fires.

The waste and recycling industry has been hit hard by these fires. Noteworthy incidents include the 2019 Sandalwood Fire, triggered by a garbage truck driver discarding a flaming load, which resulted in over 1,000 acres burned and two fatalities. In 2021, a similar fire in Tulsa, Oklahoma, destroyed a Material Recovery Facility (MRF), halting city recycling for nearly a year. These disasters, along with the 97% of recycling facilities reporting at least one fire between 2014 and 2020, demonstrate the gravity of this issue.

A primary cause of these fires is the improper disposal of L/Li batteries in standard trash or recycling bins, a practice that research from the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) shows is alarmingly common. Even though L/Li batteries should never be disposed of in this manner, around 40% of nearly 3,000 surveyed consumers admitted to improperly discarding these batteries.

A lack of education and awareness regarding L/Li batteries and their safe disposal is at the heart of this issue. Many consumers are unaware of the inherent dangers and potential negative outcomes, such as fires at homes, refuse collection vehicles, recycling facilities, and waste management facilities.

L/Li batteries demand a different approach to disposal than most everyday items. As they aren’t ordinary recyclable products like paper or aluminum, they shouldn’t be placed in residential or commercial recycling bins. Instead, they should be taken to designated recycling or household waste collection points for proper handling. As an extra precaution to prevent fires, it’s recommended to tape the battery terminals or place the lithium-ion batteries in individual plastic bags. It’s crucial to note that, as of now, no universal recycling or recovery facility for these batteries exists, adding another layer of complexity to their safe disposal.

It’s important to distill the information into simple, concise messaging that the average consumer can understand. Complex technical jargon or lengthy directives often lose the audience’s attention. Clear, concise instructions can eliminate confusion about what to do with L/Li batteries at the end of their life, reducing the risk of them being improperly discarded in household trash or recycling bins.

Equally crucial is an emphasis on the potential consequences of consumer actions. By highlighting the potentially catastrophic outcomes of improper battery disposal—such as the devastating fires that have ravaged waste facilities, homes, and even claimed lives – we can underscore the urgency and importance of correct practices. Similarly, illuminating the positive impact of proper disposal methods, such as reduced fire risk and a safer environment for waste workers, can help motivate positive behaviors.

These batteries are an essential part of modern life, and that’s unlikely to change. By prioritizing education about their proper disposal, we can reduce the risk of accidental fires, ensuring safer and more environmentally responsible handling of L/Li batteries. A well-informed public is a vital first step toward protecting our communities, preserving our recycling capacities, and countering the dangers posed by an important but mismanaged resource.

Announcing the 2023 EREF Quantification of Landfill Emissions Summit

Chicago, IL | May 10, 2023 – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) is excited to announce the 2023 Quantification of Landfill Emissions Summit, taking place October 24th and 25th in Chicago, IL. This esteemed event brings together engineers, academics, industry professionals, government personnel, and policymakers to address the pressing issue of greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste management facilities.

Call for Abstracts Now Open

EREF invites experts in the field to share their knowledge and contribute to the Summit by submitting abstracts for presentations. Topics of interest include:

  • Assessments of direct emissions measurement technologies, such as satellite, aircraft, drone, fixed sensors, and ground-based techniques
  • Challenges or variables that can significantly impact direct measurements
  • Comparisons of emission modeling/equations to direct measurement
  • Carbon accounting methods used to assess methane emissions
  • The current state of practice of emissions measurement

Presentations should focus on emissions measurement at solid waste management facilities, including landfills, renewable natural gas (RNG) facilities, and compost operations. The Summit aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the latest developments, research, and best practices in the field.

Join the Conversation

Don’t miss this opportunity to participate in the 2023 EREF Quantification of Landfill Emissions Summit and contribute to the global conversation on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Share your expertise, network with fellow professionals, and help shape the future of landfill emissions management.

Abstract submission deadline is June 11, 2023. Abstracts should follow the template and must be submitted electronically. Click here to download the EREF Summit Call for Abstracts.

Registration and Sponsorships will be available this summer. To learn more, visit our website.

About EREF

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that advances scientific research and creates educational pathways that enable innovation in sustainable waste management practices. For more complete information on EREF funded research, its scholarship program and how to donate to this great cause, visit


Media Contact:

Stephen Aber, Communications Manager

Science Sessions – Virtual Conversations with Solid Waste Industry Leaders and Experts

In January, the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) began a series of virtual conversations with solid waste industry leaders and experts, called Science Sessions. Approximately an hour long, these science-based conversations are intended to provide a rich forum for sharing ideas and exploring important solutions to new and ongoing challenges. But how did they come about? EREF’s President & CEO, Bryan Staley, PhD, PE, shares the origins of the series in this Q&A.

What prompted you to come up with the idea of Science Sessions?

BRYAN:  There is a big gap right now with reliable, accurate and science-based content around waste and environmental sustainability issues.  A lot of the existing content out there tends to present information that has been covered substantially or is broad and non-technical.  Many of the issues facing society, the waste field and improving sustainability require technical, science-based solutions.  These solutions need to be shared to foster meaningful impact.

How does it fit in with the Foundation’s mission? 

BRYAN:  EREF is the primary organization that advances the science of sustainable waste management efforts.  Given its role as a non-advocacy, unbiased research foundation, there is no organization better suited to educate the public and waste management-related fields on what is happening on critical issues and what the state of science is on these issues.

You decided to start the Science Sessions with a series of webinars on PFAS. Why?

BRYAN:  PFAS is one of the fastest evolving and impactful issues of our day.  It cuts across our entire society and has the potential to have significant impacts on how waste is managed.

What do you hope people will learn or gain from each Session? 

BRYAN:  Our hope is to summarize technical content and share it in a way that is understandable to all and that allows folks to see the tangible, real value that science can bring to the table to create solutions.


Recycle Right: Are you Falling for these Recycling Myths?

ARD 2019 Recycling Myths FINAL smaller

When you hear phrases like “think green” or “environmental stewardship,” recycling is likely one of the first things that comes to mind. With all of the pseudo-science and myths out there, you might be confused on how to recycle and even the definition of recycling.

Check out this infographic in which EREF addresses common misconceptions associated with recycling!

Program Seeking to Quantify K-12 Cafeteria Waste Reaches More Than 82,000 Students

The Environmental Research & Education Foundation’s School Cafeteria Discards Assessment Project (SCrAP) is a program that aims to understand how waste is generated and managed in K – 12 cafeterias across the United States.

Due to their interests in reducing or better managing waste, the School Nutrition Foundation and Keep America Beautiful joined the program as collaborative partners. With the help of these partners, SCrAP has reached 93 schools across 38 states, representing over 82,000 students.

While participation offers benefits to schools, such as educational resources and food waste and cost reductions, data gathered through the program will benefit a wide-range of organizations. Results from this program will be incorporated into a larger project from EREF’s Data & Policy Program investigating waste management practices in each waste sector: institutional (schools, hospitals), commercial (retail stores) and residential. Conclusions drawn from this study will inform organizations across various industries, including school boards, on best practices for managing waste.

SCrAP participants were asked to join at the purple level – complete a questionnaire only – or at the blue or golds levels – complete the questionnaire and conduct cafeteria waste audits 3 – 5 or 6 – 10 times, respectively. Of the 93 schools that joined SCrAP, 91% have a recycling program, 16% have backyard or garden composting and 9% send their organics to a commercial composter.

Schools that elected to perform audits sorted lunch waste into five categories: food waste, liquids, recycling, other/landfill and unopened/untouched food and drinks. These sorts educated students about waste management, and presented opportunities for discussion on the importance of more sustainably managing our waste.

EREF staff compiled the data provided by the schools, finding that the weight of the lunch waste totaled nearly 13,000 lbs! The chart below depicts the breakdown of the discarded material into the five categories.









Blue or gold level schools received Snapshot Reports that include links to educational resources, a comparison of each school to other schools at the state and national level and a list of opportunities to increase waste sustainability.

Additional Results:

  • The largest component was organic waste at 75%. This consists of food waste, beverage waste, and unopened/untouched food.
  • Milk accounted for 65% of unopened food by weight.
  • The national average of waste generated per student for schools was 43.3 lbs/student in a school year.

Interested in participating? The School Cafeteria Discards Assessment Project continues through the 2017-2018 school year. For additional program information or to register, please click here or send an e-mail to

Looking for more results from the program? Click here for an infographic outlining some of the key results!


Thank you to our sponsors who have helped make this project possible:

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EREF Annual Charitable Auction at WasteExpo Features New Items Up for Bid and Giveaways for Registered Bidders During Live Auction

Raleigh, NC (April 14, 2017) – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation’s (EREF) Annual Charitable Auction remains one of the highlights of WasteExpo, held May 8 – 11, 2017 in New Orleans. The exciting two-day event, which has raised $17 million since it began in 1994, consists of the Live and Silent Auctions featuring generous donations from waste industry organizations and provides opportunities to increase exposure at WasteExpo. Last year, the Auction raised over $1.6 million to support EREF’s mission to fund and direct scientific research and educational initiatives.

Click here for more information (PDF)

Graduate Scholarships in Solid Waste Research Available for the 2017-2018 Academic Year

Raleigh, NC (February 28, 2017) – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) is one of the largest sources of solid waste research funding in the U.S., allocating approximately $1 million annually in research grants and graduate level scholarships.

Thus far, over 50 students have been EREF scholars, many of whom are now in key academic and professional positions across the U.S. EREF is pleased to announce that scholarship applications for the 2017-2018 academic year are now available. The application deadline is May 3, 2017 at 5:00 pm (eastern).

Click here for more information (PDF)

EREF Receives Scholarship Funding from the Garbageman’s Invitational

The Board of Directors of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) is pleased to announce the creation of a scholarship for Master’s students, which will be funded by donations from the Garbageman’s Invitational, an industry golf tournament and social event.

EREF Scholarships recognize graduate students pursuing excellence in solid waste management research and education. Recipients are chosen based on credentials and potential contributions to the solid waste industry and its scientific community.

More information on EREF’s scholarships, as well as a link to the scholarship application, can be found at The deadline for the 2016-17 academic year is May 4, 2016 at 5:00 pm (eastern).

Click Here for more Information (PDF)