Fire chiefs and environment officials are investigating whether tighter controls are needed to prevent fires in the recycling industry, after two major blazes in recent days.
Some 300 tonnes of WEEE was lost in a fire at Sweeep Kuusakoski’s recycling facility in Kent on 7 July, while “tens of thousands” of tonnes of material caught fire in a blaze that broke out at a West Midlands depot run by J & A Young (Jayplas) on 30 June, according to the fire service.
The Environment Agency’s Midlands office has started an investigation into the fire at the Jayplas facility to establish whether the company was compliant with its permit requirements, including for waste storage. The EA stressed this is standard procedure when a fire occurs.
EA Midlands Central environment manager David Hudson said the investigation could lead to a nationwide review of waste storage requirements.
“The EA will be looking at this fire and others in the waste industry and reviewing whether we have been requiring the right sort of activities by the operators of these sites, and tightening [the requirements] if necessary,” he said.
He added that the EA may request more fire management activities from waste operators as part of its permitting regime.
The Jayplas and the Sweeep blazes are only the most recent of a series of fires at recycling facilities.
In 2012, more than 300 fires broke out in the sector, some requiring days or even weeks to extinguish, according to the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA).
In a statement issued after the fire at the Sweeep facility, the CFOA said it was looking to work closely with “key partners” to review current safety guidance on waste transfer and recycling sites.
“In an effort to reduce the potential for such fires to occur, CFOA is in discussion with partners such as the Environment Agency and the Wood & Tyre Recycling Association in order to examine incident statistics and review existing guidance.
“CFOA will also be working with site operators to improve safety and lobby government for changes, including legislation where necessary,” it added.
Steve Lee, chief executive at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, told MRW that the increasing number of fire incidents was related to the progress in recycling in the UK.
“I don’t think the sites are becoming more risky,” he said. “As we become more rigorous at recycling, the storage of materials waiting for customers increases, and this could be the reason why recycling sites are in the news [for fire accidents]”
Lee welcomed the CFOA announcement and described it as a significant step.
“The CIWM has been watching the incidents of fire at recycling sites and we are delighted that it has been picked up by the regulators and the fire services,” he said. “We will be happy to work alongside them to identify and promote best practices.”
Sweeep Kuusakoski commercial manager Justin Greenaway said he feared the authorities would seek to impose more indoor storage of recyclables, and insisted outdoor storage created less of a fire risk.