Watch what you toss – Batteries, electronics light up local landfill

Scenes from recent fires at Short Mountain Landfill, likely caused by improper disposal of lithium-ion and lithium polymer batteries. Jesse Berger/Lane County Public Works

Standing over your trash bin, TV remote in one hand and two dead batteries in the other, an internal conflict arises that quietly weighs convenience over consumer accountability.
With a flick of the wrist, you toss the batteries in the trash and carry on with your day. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
Sure … until you can see plumes of smoke billowing from the landfill off Interstate 5.
It all ends up somewhere.
Short Mountain Landfill is located about five miles east of Creswell on Dillard Access Road. The 575-acre, county-owned facility has been in service since 1976 and has an estimated 100 years left before it is completely filled.
The close proximity of the landfill is a great fortune for Lane County, said Don Strunk, engineering analyst and supervisor for Lane County Hazardous Waste, because not having to ship garbage elsewhere keeps fees lower for county residents.
From Heceta Beach on the coast to Waldo Lake near Oakridge, nearly all of Lane County’s trash winds up here – including improperly-disposed-of batteries, old cell phones, propane tanks and chemicals.
When those flammables get crushed, punctured and heated, potential danger erupts, creating dangerous conditions for landfill workers.
This month, Short Mountain experienced two fires in one weekend, prompting a visit from South Lane County Fire & Rescue. It was the largest Strunk has seen in the past three years, he said.
Strunk said lithium batteries, coupled with a streak of dry, hot days, were the likely culprits of the fires. Lithium-ion and lithium polymer batteries are often encased in a soft pouch. The batteries are likely punctured when run over and compacted at the landfill, causing air to reach the battery, and a chemical reaction that leads to sparks, fire and sometimes explosions. The fire also produces toxic smoke to boot.
”There is a good possibility something hot came into the landfill – bar-b-que ashes, potentially a battery ignited, and (the landfill) just started to smoulder for a couple of weeks,” Strunk said. ”As things dried out, when the conditions were right, (the battery) was able to ignite.”
At times, there have been as many as four fires per day at the Glenwood Transfer Station and Short Mountain Landfill due to improperly disposed of materials.
”We usually see an increase in landfill fires in the summertime as conditions get drier and more people are grilling and using fireworks,” said Keith Hendrix, Lane County solid waste supervisor. ”However, lithium batteries are the most frequent culprit and can cause fires year-round.”
The landfill is staffed 24-hours a day, and for the past three years, there has been a fire watch at night, whose primary responsibility to is to catch fires before they get out of control.
”If you can see fire visible from Interstate 5, you’ve already a got pretty substantial fire on your hands,” Strunk said.
Taking a little bit of extra time to properly dispose of flammable materials can help save lives, Hendrix said.
”It is extremely dangerous for waste management staff and fire personnel to fight fires in the active fill area of the landfill – there’s a lot of fuel and it is not easy terrain to navigate on foot or with firefighting equipment,” Hendrix said.
Lane County Waste Management accepts most home electronics, including computers, for recycling at the local Creswell and Cottage Grove transfer stations, located at 34293 Cloverdale Road and 78760 Sears Road. All Lane County waste transfer stations accept rechargeable batteries for appropriate disposal.
Other electronics that contain lithium batteries can be disposed of for free at Lane County’s Hazardous Waste Collection Center, located at the Glenwood Transfer Station, 3100 E. 17th Ave. in Eugene. The center accepts appointments for Thursdays and Saturdays between 8 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. To make an appointment, call 541-682-4120.



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