Common recycling mistake is causing big fires in Minnesota

Last year, the Dem-Con recycling plant in Blaine, Minnesota was gutted when flames roared through enormous piles of paper and plastic like a "Game of Thrones" Dragon on a feeding frenzy.

The Spring Lake Park, Blaine, and Mounds View fire departments had crews on the scene for more than 24 hours.

“You could see smoke columns from all over the city,” said Fire Chief, Charlie Smith. “When we got there the fire had already had a significant head start.”

According to Bill Keegan, President at Dem-Con Companies, the fire destroyed the facility.

“It’s endemic in our industry; we’re losing a facility a month, nationwide,” said Keegan. 

The crew at the Blaine facility had left for the day, when the first sign of smoke appeared. By the time fire alarms went off, it was already too late.

Investigators were unable to pinpoint the exact cause, but security camera images show the MO of what has become the recycling industry’s public enemy number one.


Flames are erupting in recycling centers without warning. Blame the rash of fires on the reckless recycling of lithium ion batteries.

“Roughly every other month we’re having a facility fire here,” said Keegan. “When these [batteries] get punctured, there’s a membrane in there and when that membrane gets short-circuited, they explode.”

Too many people are tossing old batteries from their smart phones and other electronics, into their recycling bins. At Randy's Sanitation in Delano, battery fires were such a concern, that they installed foam shooting fire cannons.

"That cannon can shoot 345 degrees," said Andy Bright from Randy’s.

The equipment is operated remotely by a fire monitoring service which uses cameras and sensors to keep watch on the facility 24-7.

"When I talk to people, they generally have no idea that one cell phone could burn down a facility like ours,” Keegan said.      

Minnesota currently recycles about 46 percent of its waste, compared to about 35 percent nationally.

However, the infrastructure that allows it to happen is being threatened by a growing influx of lithium ion batteries, which can explode and cause massive damage.

The industry is pleading with consumers to stop it.

Those batteries need to go to an approved drop site, not the curbside recycle bin. People should check with their city or county to find locations.

For more information on how to properly recycle batteries, click here.