The Environment Agency has opened an investigation on the fire that broke out at J & A Young’s Smethwick depot to establish whether the company was compliant with its permit requirements.
The routine investigation, being carried out by the EA’s Midlands regional office, will also determine the amount of plastics that was on site at the time of the accident and how much of it was involved in the fire.
The EA stressed this is standard procedure when a fire occurs.
Jayplas obtained a permit in April 2013 to shred and bale up to 100,000 tonnes of plastics material per year at its West Midlands facility.
The West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) initially estimated that as much as 100,000 tonnes of materials caught fire, then revised the figure down to “tens of thousands”, consisting of 80% plastics and 20% paper. One source told MRW the figure could be as low as 10,000 tonnes. Jayplas did not respond to MRW’s request for comment in time for publication.
Knowing how much plastics was lost in the fire was essential to assess the impact of the accident on the UK plastics recycling market, industry figures told MRW.
One member of an industry body told MRW that the initial 100,000 tonnes estimate sounded unlikely, as it would represent about 20% of the plastics recycled in the UK every year.
A PRN trader told MRW that there had not been “any dramatic price rise” in plastics PRNs. “No panic, just yet. We don’t’ know how much plastics was on the site, and how much of it was PRN-able,” he said.
Nonetheless, some expressed concerns on the possible impact of the loss on plastics recycling targets, which rose to 37% for 2013.
Stuart Foster, chief executive at Recoup, told MRW that meeting the increased target was already challenging, particularly in light of the recent Chinese crackdown on the import of low quality recyclable material, known as Operation Green Fence. Any loss of recyclable materials would then make the meeting of the target even more challenging.
“Whatever the number is, it was a large amount,” he said. “Defra needs to look at solutions to tackle this one-off accident. Although maintaining the same target, [Defra] should find ways to bridge the gap of whatever tonnage [was lost].”
A Defra spokesperson told MRW: “We are monitoring the situation. The plastic waste lost in the fire will not count towards meeting the recycling target. Current estimates suggest that the amount of plastic lost amounts to around two per cent of the market, so overall the impact is likely to be low.”