A series of controlled burns is taking place as part of preliminary research to help determine safe stack size and separation distances for stored recycled material.
Data gained from tests on samples of around 12 types of recycled materials will be used to determine full-scaled tests to be carried out in March or April next year.
Final recommendations – to update guidance issued by the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) forum – are expected to be published in June 2015.
The initiative is a collaboration between industry bodies such as the Wood Recyclers Association and Tyre Recyclers Association, the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), the Fire Protection Association (FPA) and others.
Angus Sangster, a station manager at London Fire Brigade, told MRW that recyclers had provided bales for testing at the FPA’s research facility at Blockley in Gloucestershire.
The materials includes different types of wood – coarse, medium and fine chipped – plastic bottles and baled dense plastic, paper, card and shredded tyres.
He said: “At the moment we are testing the individual bales. We’ve asked each of the recyclers to provide us with a bale of the smallest unit they would process and store.
“The average size is about a tonne. Some come in polybags, some baled in plastic and some are baled in wire.
“From this we will extrapolate how quickly a bigger stack might burn. As you scale it up the way it burns might change, which is why we’re going to do a full-scale test.
“Then full-scale stack testing will be done in March or April. We’re negotiating with the industry to provide a couple of sites, and I’m confident that by June we will have all the data we need to revise the risk guide.”
Sangster said the intention was to set a limit on the size and separation distances for an unprotected stack so that it would burn out, or burn to a point where it can be controlled within 24 hours.
He added that identifying locations for the full-scale burns was “proving quite difficult” because of environmental considerations.
“Testing at the moment is being carried out at an internal lab, and all the smoke is scrubbed before it goes out so there’s no pollution,” he said. “In fact, you wouldn’t even know they’re burning anything inside.
“The bigger stacks will be outside. That’s a matter of picking somewhere as remote as we can and hoping people don’t complain too much.”
The research follows WISH guidance on fire risks at recycling sites produced in conjunction with the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, the CFOA and others.
An initial draft had been criticised by tyre recyclers who felt that they had been left out of the consultation.
The ESA said in 2013 that the days of extremely large piles of stored waste with little or no separation between stacks “must come to an end” after a series of large fires hit recycling facilities across the UK.