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How did the waste and recycling industry do in 2018 with regard to facility fires?

April 16, 2019

This guest blog is courtesy of Ryan Fogelman, VP of Strategic Partnerships, Fire Rover, LLC

Each new year is a time of reflection to both learn from our successes and our failures. For the waste and recycling industry, 2018 was extremely eventful – and full of preventable failures. Being in the fire elimination business, I stay current on how the number and causes of fire incidents are impacted by industry and societal trends. Early in 2018, we focused on China’s ‘green sword’ policy and how to lower contamination in our commodity bales. While the industry was consumed by this issue, I noticed the pace of reported waste and recycling facility fires was continuing to rise. While the public’s attention shifted to wildfires in the summer of 2018, I was working to understand the connection between hot and dry environments and their impact on increased waste and recycling facility fires. As 2018 came to a close and more information about Chinese restrictions on metals became available, I recognized a dangerous trend (initially highlighted in my 2017 Annual Report) — more fires at scrap metal facilities across the US/Canada. 

As my third year of research on waste and recycling facility fires in the US/Canada comes to a close, I now have the baseline data required to understand and evaluate trends, and to make my best-ever recommendations to combat industry fire problems. We all know about the inherent risk of fires in this industry; waste and recycling operations have long dealt with traditional hazards such as propane tanks, aerosol cans and household chemicals which can cause fires in trucks, landfills and other locations. My research, however, is focused on fire incidents that occur during the processing of recycled materials or when preparing the MSW for transfer to a landfill.  

In this report, I will outline current challenges facing our industry – with one of the largest being the rising use of lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are small enough to get into cracks and screens and cause issues from drop-off to finished product, and at this point, they’re not only causing increased fire incidents at material recycling facilities (MRFs), but also at Construction & Demolition (C&D), scrap metal, paper and plastic recycling operations. Waste industry leaders and manufacturers of these products are searching for solutions and doing public education campaigns on proper recycling, but fire incidents caused by these batteries continue to rise.

In addition, to the scope of the problem, I outline the Combinational Approach™ to planning for the first ten minutes of a fire incident, an approach developed in combination with Jim Emerson from Starr Technical Risks Agency.  No matter the size and scope of your facilities, there are positive lessons to learn for any organization looking to prepare for and minimize the effects of a fire incident within their operations. 

You can access the full report online. For a PDF version, feel free to email Ryan or reach out at 614-327-3744. 

NERC welcomes guest blog submissions. To inquire about submitting articles contact Lynn Rubinstein.

Disclaimer: Guest blogs represent the opinion of the writers and may not reflect the policy or position of the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc.

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