There were more than 300 fires a year at UK waste and recycling plants between 2001 and 2013. These types of fires present a significant environmental hazard, endanger human life and inflict a major cost on companies in property damage and lost business. Last year a fire at a plant in Sutherland burned for 25 days before being extinguished; it not only damaged the production line of the recycling centre but affected the air quality of the surrounding area and compromised water sources.
The materials handled at recycling plants are extremely combustible - wood, plastic, and cardboard etc - so it is important that waste handling businesses take as many precautions as they can to limit the risk of fire. Many firms store large amounts of waste in single stacks packed close together and once a fire breaks out it is difficult for the fire service to extinguish it.
The Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH) issued guidance in April 2017 aimed at reducing the number of fires at waste and recycling facilities. Recommendations included installing sprinklers and other fire suppression systems through to training staff in firefighting and evacuation procedures.
The public are also to blame for one third of waste facility fires (source WISH) through their actions of by putting “hot or hazardous materials” in their household recycling bins. Materials such as hot ashes, lithium batteries, gas cylinders, aerosols and flammable liquids. It is generally thought the number of fires at waste facilities caused by lithium batteries is on the increase. According to WISH the public need to be warned against putting batteries in their recycling bins and instead should be educated about the need to place them in dedicated bins such as though found at municipal household recycling centres.
Fires at waste and recycling facilities can also be caused by fires in the machinery and vehicles they use. In July 2018 a fire at facility in Caythorpe Lincolnshire, which 40 firefighters attended, arose from an overheating shredder.