Waste Disposal Safety Tips

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Provided by Prince William County Solid Waste Division

In early August, a truck carrying trash from the Prince William County Balls Ford Road Compost Facility to the county landfill caught fire.  While transporting a large roll off container of household trash, the driver noticed smoke. He pulled over, jettisoned the trash bin, turned off the truck and 911 was called. This caused a major traffic backup on the parkway.

Fortunately, no one was hurt and there was minimal damage to County equipment and the roadway thanks to the quick action of an unidentified motorist and the local fire department.  A situation like this, however, could easily result in tragedy because of improper disposal of flammable materials.

According to a recent article in Waste360, there were 365 reported fires at waste and recycling facilities in the U.S. during 2018 (up 26% from 2017).  These fires resulted in three deaths and 13 injuries, most of which were to firefighters called to the scene to extinguish the fires.  The fires are occurring at landfills, transfer stations, recycling processing centers, scrap metal yards, construction waste recycling facilities, as well as facilities that process waste paper, plastic, chemicals and organic waste.  The causes of these fires include ashes, lithium-ion batteries, pressurized tanks/containers, fuels, fertilizers, propane tanks and aerosol containers.

Although the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department did not provide the cause of the fire, there are several usual suspects and precautions that are worth reviewing.

Ashes from grills, fireplace and cigarettes

 First, make sure that charcoal and ashes being thrown away in the trash are completely cool, make that cold, before disposing of them in the trash. The same is true for fireplace logs and ashes as well as fire pit ashes, burn barrel contents and cigarette ash tray material.

Safety Precautions When Handling Ashes

  • Treat all ashes as hot
  • Wait at least 24 hours after a fire before removing ashes
  • Do not add live embers to the ash bucket
  • Never add anything combustible to ash bucket
  • Place lid over the ash bucket to reduce the possibility of oxygen reaching a live ember or smoldering ashes in the ash bucket
  • Store the ash bucket (with ashes) in a well-ventilated location as ashes may contain live coals (embers) from which carbon monoxide emits
  • Do not place ash bucket (with ashes) near to anything combustible
  • Pour a little water over ashes in ash bucket (think of properly extinguishing campfires) but do this in an outdoor setting in case of live embers or smoldering ashes or….
  • Allow ash bucket to sit for at least three days before disposing of ashes
  • Never dispose of the ashes in an area where flammable items are (even decorative wood chips)
  • Recycle the ash into potted plants
  • Ash can be used to melt ice on walkways and driveways, too

Source: higginsfire.org/prevention/fireplace-ash-disposal-safety-first

Additional tips: wikihow.com/Dispose-of-Burnt-Firewood-and-Ash-Safely


Although ubiquitous and seemingly harmless, batteries that are disposed of improperly can also cause fires. To help prevent a fire, tape over the terminals (ends) of regular household and rechargeable batteries to prevent the batteries from short-circuiting and possibly resulting in a fire.  There is a special location at the Prince William County Landfill and the Balls Ford Road Compost Facility for proper battery disposal and recycling.

In addition to disposal at the County’s Solid Waste facilities, residents may also drop off nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd), nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH), lithium ion (Li-ion), small sealed lead (Pb) batteries and cell phones at retail locations throughout the community. A list of collection sites and addresses can be found at call2recycle.org.

Cylinders, tanks, aerosol cans

Cylinders used for grilling, camping, and home projects require special handling and should never be placed in your regular trash or recycling bin.  Placing a propane tank in your trash can result in serious injury or death to a worker during the normal process of managing residential wastes.

Prince William County residents can bring propane tanks 20 pounds or less to the Household Hazardous program at the landfill on Wednesdays and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Depending on original content, empty aerosol cans may be recycled or disposed of at the Household Hazardous program.   Do not recycle an aerosol can that is not empty.

Some tips for cylinder use and disposal:

  • Return empty cylinders to the place of purchase;
  • Before installing your new tank, be sure to use all the propane gas from the old one. This makes it easier to process the cylinder since the gas will not need to be removed;
  • Do not store tanks/cylinders (empty or full) inside buildings;
  • Never store spare LP gas cylinders or flammable liquids under or near a grill;
  • When transporting cylinders, always do so in an upright position and make sure the cylinder is secure,
  • Never store a filled compressed gas cylinder in a hot vehicle, and;
  • Never attempt to repair or replace a cylinder valve.

Following these basic tips for ashes, batteries and cylinders will go a long way to protect your family as well as the workers who handle your waste and fire fighters.

To find out more about the disposal and recycling services provided Prince William County, visit  pwcgov.org/trashandrecycling.   Look for the new A to Z Disposal Guide that helps residents determine the appropriate way to dispose of, recycle or reuse an item that is no longer needed.




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