The recent fires at waste sites in Smethwick and Bredbury were isolated and unrelated incidents and have not had a “significantly impact” the UK’s recyclers desire to meet EU targets, according to Defra.
However, government department refused to comment on whether the spate of high-profile blazes had damaged the overall image or profitability of the recycling industry. Defra would only say that it was “supporting a number of local pilot projects to test new ways of encouraging people to reduce waste and recycle more”.
For Richard Loynes, commercial director at Derbyshire-based Vinyl Compounds, that is not enough. Insurance premiums for UK plastics recyclers and processors have rocketed following the recent fires, he explained. His company’s liability insurance premium could be set to rise by as much as 50%.
“Recycling has become a dirty word for the insurance sector,” said Loynes. Companies in the recycling sector could therefore get a big shock when they came to renew their insurance policies, he added.
That shock seems a certainty given the view of the Association of British Insurers. “The insurance industry is concerned at the apparent increasing number of fires at waste management and recycling centres,” said Mark Shepherd, the organisation’s property policy adviser.
“Insurers take into account a wide range of matters when pricing insurance and a sustained increase in the cost of fire is likely to have an impact for many businesses, including waste management facilities, particularly if insurers perceive those businesses to be at a high risk.”
Chris Dow, the chief executive of Closed Loop Recycling, does not consider Defra’s ‘arm’s length’ approach to be good enough – he believes that there needs to be a focus on fire prevention as part of an overall overhaul of the sector’s image and management.
He points out that the growth the government is so keen to encourage comes with a binding need to change the way the recycling sector works.
“The challenge with growth is to manage the change within existing facilities and also to plan for all aspects of the business, including potential fire or damage,” said Dow. “As our industry matures, it’s essential that such a level of professionalism is introduced across the board.”
Stockpiles, where fires have tended to start, generally to relate to lower quality materials, which are difficult to shift, added Dow. “Which is another reason to develop a quality-led approach, starting with collection and sorting.”
However, Roger Baynham, chairman of the recycling group with the British Plastics Federation (BPF), argued that the erection of China’s ‘green fence’, effectively blocking the export of certain post-consumer waste materials, was making it difficult to follow Dow’s quality-led approach.
“The impact of China’s move been congestion in the supply chain. The waste management sector has accumulated material which it is finding difficult to sell.
“Consequently yards are full of material and this inevitably poses a greater fire risk,” he added.
Four fire engines went to the scene of a fire in waste at a recycling centre in Saint Pauls Cray. Two fire engines from Sidcup fire station and one each from Eltham and Orpington fire stations went to the scene with 21 firefighters and officers.
Firefighters took almost five hours to extinguish a blaze which started in the north of Coventry on Monday night. Crews from Nuneaton were called to a tyre fire at a recycling plant, in Bayton Road.