Representatives of the wood recycling industry have broadly welcomed Environment Agency (EA) proposals on the storage of combustible materials.
The EA is consulting on changes to awarding standard environmental permits after an “unacceptable number” of fires at permitted sites storing or treating waste.
The Wood Recycling Association (WRA) welcomed the requirement for sites accepting more than 5,000 tonnes of wood waste a year to have a bespoke permit, because this would include most operators within the same regulatory environment.
It also supported a requirement for sites to implement fire protection plans, although there is concern that the EA and not the fire and rescue services that will approve these plans.
WRA executive director Simon Dowson told MRW: “We have experienced a number of occasions where a plan that was acceptable to the service has been rejected by the EA”.
An EA spokesperson confirmed that the agency will be agreeing the plans and ensuring they are fully implemented, adding: “Where appropriate, we will discuss fire prevention plans with our partners through groups such as the local resilience forums.”
The EA also proposed a requirement that wood waste activities shall not be carried out within 200 metres of a workplace or dwelling. WRA members expressed concern over the potential impact on existing operators who are currently working within that distance when they apply to vary or renew their permits.
The EA said the restriction safeguarded local communities and would also bring the wood processing standard in line with other combustible wastes, where the requirement already exists.
Current rules prevent wood waste from being stored on site for more than three months. The EA consultation proposes to extend this rule to open-air waste transfer stations and MRFs. However the WRA is lobbying for the removal of this rule on waste wood “to allow operators handling waste wood to stockpile wood destined for energy during the summer – assuming adequate measures are in place to mitigate the possibility and effects of fire”.
Alastair Kerr, director general, Wood Panel Industries Federation told MRW: “Our members are reasonably comfortable with this guidance because it is risk-based and allows for various mitigation options.
“The tonnage limit is quite small so I would expect that many wood recycling companies could get caught by this and as such I could see that it could be a particular burden on smaller companies or those with restricted sites (size and location).”
The EA spokesperson said the agency was working closely with wood recyclers and supporting those affected by the changes “as they consider their options and where appropriate to transition to a new way of working”.
Call for joint working protocol
Dowson said: “At a Recycling Waste Fires Seminar at the Houses of Parliament on 4 November there was talk of a ‘Memorandum of Understanding and Joint Working Protocol’ between the EA and the Chief Fire Officers Association.
“It is important that this Joint Working Protocol is in place before the new Standard Permit Rules are introduced to ensure a fair and consistent approach to fire management at waste sites across the whole country.”