‘Two fires a day’ from electrical waste prompts call for new WEEE collection services

The British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA) has called for Defra and local authorities to urgently introduce new rules around the safe disposal and collection of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). This includes the recommendation for the kerbside collection of WEEE by all local authorities.

Small WEEE itemsSeveral local authorities around the UK currently offer kerbside collection, for example, North Lincolnshire.

A recent survey by Material Focus showed that nearly 90 per cent of the 60 local authorities surveyed said fires caused by batteries are ‘an increasing problem’.

James Kelly, CEO of the BMRA, commented: “We are seeing increased fires happening in bin lorries and at household waste recycling centres as well as metal recycling sites like those of our members where these items can end up in the incorrect waste stream. People’s lives are at risk.”

According to the ‘Recycle Your Electricals’ campaign by Material Focus, electrical waste disposed of in household waste streams is now responsible for 700 fires in the last 12 months. This is three times higher than experts originally thought.

The fires are most often caused by damaged lithium and lithium-ion batteries, especially those which cannot be removed from the products such as lithium-ion batteries in vapes.

Kelly continued: “Almost two fires a day across the country can now be linked to these batteries, according to new research.

“In the space of 10 weeks, thanks to Black Friday deals, Christmas gifts, Boxing Day sales and January sales, we are likely to see millions of electrical items discarded.

“If there is not an easy option, such as kerbside collection, it is likely that much of this will be disposed of incorrectly. This massively increases the risk of fires across the waste sector. That is why we need to see kerbside collections introduced right away. 

The BMRA predicts that over two million items will be discarded in the month between Black Friday (25 November) and Christmas (25 December). In the same time period last year, UK households purchased nearly 40 million electrical items. The BMRA also says that 33 per cent of households have at least one electrical device that does not work and could be recycled. Research by Currys claims that more than £850 million worth of precious metals could be salvaged from these electrical products each year.

Kelly concluded: “Aside from the safety issues regarding fires, hoarding e-waste also prevents a great many raw materials being made available again from recycling. These include metals such as copper, cobalt, and tungsten.”