Waste and recycling: a proactive approach to fire safety

Waste and recycling sites are seeing more fire risks – caused by the growing prevalence of batteries in waste streams and as power sources for operating vehicles and machinery.

James Mountain, sales and marketing director, Fire Shield Systems, explores how proactive fire safety can minimise costs and downtime.


Evolving risks

Waste streams can carry various materials, causing different safety risks.

Batteries, specifically lithium ion (li-ion) batteries, have become more common for waste and recycling businesses. They can be found in different waste and are often used as power for the site’s vehicles/machinery.

The main risk for any battery is thermal runaway, which occurs when battery cells malfunction after physical damage, mechanical failure or overcharging. In thermal runaway, a battery rapidly produces excess heat, leading to combustion, toxic gas emissions and potential explosions.

Operational downtime and equipment damage

After a fire has occurred, even if minor, your site could be closed for risk assessments/investigations.

Waste businesses often take a reactive approach to fire safety, which can lead to operational disruption, reputational damage and increased damage costs.

Example one: reactive approach

In 2021, a large fire occurred at a recycling site’s materials recovery facility, caused by a battery in the waste stream. As the site had no fire protection, the fire spread quickly, causing whole-site loss.

The facility rebuild represented a several million euro investment, excluding operational downtime, reputational costs and any fine/sanctions.

Had the fire protection system been installed proactively, damages and costs could’ve been saved.


Example two: proactive approach

In 2019, a cement company looked to produce SRF using a shredding line at a local waste and recycling facility, which would be stored and used as fuel for the cement plant.

To stay ahead of the SRF fire risks, the company undertook a full risk assessment, prompting two bespoke automatic fire protection systems.

Both sites saved costs, minimised operational downtime risk and ensured ongoing team safety.


How to take a proactive approach?


  1. Site planning

Your site’s fire prevention plan (FPP) should be informed by a full risk assessment. Your FPP should look to minimise any hazards in high-risk areas, for example, by storing ignition sources at least six metres away from combustible waste.

  1. Battery storage and processing

When storing batteries, keep them in weatherproof containers, away from any liquids. Damaged batteries should be isolated, and li-ion batteries should be disconnected from vehicles/machinery.

Your site should identify batteries before the waste processing stage. However, some may be missed, so you’ll need a fire detection system that detects hotspots and quickly implements the appropriate suppression technique to minimise thermal runaway risk.

  1. Waste management and temperature checks

Waste should be regularly monitored to prevent reactions between materials. Identify the temperature when accepting waste, if any seems unusually hot, quarantine it to cool or isolate risk.

Regular temperature checks of waste piles will also minimise self-combustion. Don’t keep waste in direct sunlight for a long time, or near any surfaces that can reflect sunlight onto waste piles.

  1. Fire detection and suppression

Your system should be informed by your site’s risk assessment. It should be proportional to your site’s size, addressing the risks associated with material handling and processing methods. 

For more information, visit Fire Shield Systems or call 0800 975 5767.

Associated Businesses

  • Sleaford, NG34 8NX