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Recycle Right to Remove Risks to Recycling Workers

Updated: Dec 9, 2019

Recycling has always been a way to keep our environment healthy and keep our wildlife safe. Properly disposing of or eliminating use of things like six-pack rings and straws helps to prevent life-threatening injuries to wildlife. But what about the safety of workers in recycling facilities? Certain items that wrongfully end up in recycling facilities can cause fire or machine damage, and even cause injuries to employees. That’s why proper disposal or recycling of products is not only important for the environment, but also extremely beneficial to the workers in recycling facilities.

One of the most common risks in recycling facilities is fire. Recycling facilities are susceptible to fires breaking out because of the large amount of combustible cardboard and paper present. But what really increases the risk of fire is improperly disposing of electronics and lithium batteries with household recyclables.

Recently, four lithium polymer batteries from a laptop computer started smoldering and smoking under a pile of recyclables at the Brown County Recycling Transfer Station. Thanks to fast-acting staff, the smoldering battery pack was extinguished and disposed of properly before any damage was done to surrounding items. Recycling facilities have also had to deal with fire issues when e-cigarettes are mistakenly recycled or thrown away. Lithium batteries, e-cigarettes and electronics should all be brought to the Brown County Hazardous Material Recovery Facility where they can be recycled and disposed of safely.

Sharps (needles, syringes and lancets) are another common item that show up at recycling facilities. These items are especially dangerous to the workers at the facilities, through accidental needle-pricks that can spread infectious or life-threatening diseases. All sharps should be disposed of in a commercially available sharps container or a thick-walled bleach or detergent bottle with screw caps, and it should be labeled with a Household Medical Sharps sticker. The Brown County Household Sharps Program helps prevent sharps from ending up at our recycling and waste centers. In 2017, the program collected over 10,000 pounds of sharps. There are more than thirty sites across Brown County that will accept sharps and properly dispose of them for you.

Another problem category at recycling facilities are Christmas lights, hoses and ropes which are considered “tanglers” and should not be recycled. These items are easily caught in sorting machines and can cause damage, forcing machines to be shut down. Light bulbs on strings of Christmas lights can easily break and scatter pieces out of the machines in the pathway of employees.

Hazardous materials such as cleaning products, chemicals, acids, light bulbs and propane tanks are flammable, poisonous, corrosive and/or reactive. These materials can easily cause damage to recycling machines and to staff. All hazardous materials should be brought to the Brown County Hazardous Material Recovery Facility for proper disposal.

So, how can you make recycling safer for everyone? Just make sure you’re not putting any of the items mentioned here in your curbside recycling. The Brown County Resource Recovery website has the information you need to Recycle Right. The more we Recycle Right, the less risk there is to our recycling facilities and the employees that work there. You help keep our community and our environment safe, when you Recycle Right!

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