Waste fires cost Scottish emergency services £16m

New figures released by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have shown that tackling waste-related fires in the past year has cost emergency services £16 million.

The annual Fire Statistics Scotland report for 2012/13from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS)  has found there have been a total of 7,937 fires involving refuse, rubbish and flytipping (known as secondary fires) in Scotland in the last year.

Of these, almost 90 per cent were started deliberately, whilst around half of them (3,592) involved loose rubbish such as litter and flytipping waste.

The estimated financial cost of emergency service attendance at these fires in 2012/13 is £15.9 million, according to the SFRS report. This approximate excludes the cost to businesses, homeowners and local authorities for replacing fire damaged skips and wheelie bins.

Further to this, the national anti-litter campaign run by Scotland’s independent environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful, Clean Up Scotland, and the SFRS have estimated that the quantities of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by fires involving rubbish and refuse in 2012/13, was likely to be at least 35 million tonnes, and may have been as much as 140 million tonnes.

As a result, Clean Up Scotland and SFRS are now focusing on a Bonfire Night campaign, calling for the public to do their bit to prevent litter and refuse fires in Scotland.

“We all have a role to play”

Carole Noble, Head of Environmental Services at Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: “Something big needs to happen now to change our nation’s attitudes to the casual disposal of litter and refuse. Flytipping is not a victimless crime. There is a substantial cost to the emergency services of up to £16 million, not to mention the estimated £11 million annual cost of clearing it from council land.

“It is up to the authorities to deal with deliberate fires of contained waste in wheelie bins and skips, but we all have a role to play to prevent fires involving litter and flytipping by not creating it in the first place.

“Bonfire Night seems like an ideal time to change our attitude towards the casual disposal of litter and waste. It is illegal and dangerous, and with the world watching us in 2014 it is a good time to cut it out.”

Assistant Chief Officer Lewis Ramsay, Director for Prevention and Protection with the SFRS added: “The large number of fires involving refuse, rubbish and fly tipped materials has a detrimental impact upon communities, neighbourhoods and the environment so the message to the public is simple.

“We tend to see a spike in this activity around Bonfire Night, so it’s particularly important to get the message out that this is not acceptable.

“Fire setting is an offence; don’t accept it, report it. If you know anything about fire setting in your neighbourhood pass the information to Police Scotland or Scotland Crimestoppers.”

An increasing problem

Burning waste rather than disposing of it legally is becoming an increasing problem in the UK, as disposal rates (such as escalating landfill tax and gate fees) rise in efforts to 'minimise the amount of waste produced and [encourage] the use of non-landfill waste management options', such as recycling, composting and recovery.

Indeed, it was found earlier this year that between 2001-2012, the average rate of fires at waste and recycling works came in at ‘just under’ one per day.

Read more about fire in the UK waste sectorat Resource.