Fires continue to be major threat at waste and recycling facilities, report shows

Fires continue to be major threat at waste and recycling facilities, report shows

In the U.S. and Canada, waste and recycling facility fires resulted in 23 reported injuries and three deaths in 2020.

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Fires at waste and recycling facilities in the U.S. and Canada continue to be a major problem for the industry, according to the “4th Annual Reported Waste & Recycling Facility Fires US/CAN” report compiled by West Bloomfield, Michigan-based Fire Rover.

The report, which compiles various fire-related data pertaining to the waste and recycling industry in the U.S. and Canada, shows that publicly reported fires totaled 272 in 2016, 290 in 2017, 365 in 2018, 345 in 2019, and 317 in 2020. The average for the 5-year period is 318 per year. The company tracks these fires based on media-reported incidents.

Of the 317 reported fires in 2020, 158 occurred in facilities that process waste, paper and plastic; 108 occurred in facilities that process scrap metal; 20 occurred in facilities that process organics; four occurred in facilities that process chemicals; eight occurred in facilities that process C&D; seven occurred in facilities that process rubber; and 12 occurred in facilities that process e-scrap.

These fires were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 23 reported injuries and three deaths in 2020.

When tracked from 2016 to 2020, facilities that process waste, paper and plastic accounted for 49 percent of fires; 32 percent occurred in facilities that process scrap metal; 7 percent occurred in facilities that process organics, 3 percent occurred in facilities that process chemicals; 3 percent occurred in facilities that process C&D; 3 percent occurred in facilities that process rubber; and 2 percent occurred in facilities that process e-scrap.

The states with the most reported fires in 2020 include California, Ohio, Texas, New York, Florida, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The report also tracks what it calls “total known fire incidents” in waste and recycling facilities. This data combines the number of publicly reported fires with the number of fire incidents that Fire Rover suppression systems put out in a given year. These data show that total known fire incidents totaled 297 in 2016, 353 in 2017, 441 in 2018, 468 in 2019 and 524 in 2020.

The report cites six typical causes of these fires and fire incidents:

  • traditional fire hazards from combustibles such as aerosols, chemicals and butane cans;
  • lithium-ion batteries;
  • heat/dry environments;
  • inherent risk from recycling chemicals and hazardous materials; 
  • sparks from building and equipment maintenance; and
  • arson.

The full report is available online.