WEEE sector trade body, the ICER, has warned that workers at WEEE reprocessing facilities face a "very real risk" of being killed by exploding gas cylinders unless councils and their contractors do more to ensure they are not mixed in with waste electrical equipment or scrap metal at civic amenity sites.
The Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER) is writing to all councils and their contractors who are responsible for running civic amenity sites that are designated collection facilities (DCFs) for WEEE collection in a bid to make them aware of the issue.
And the body, which includes manufacturers, retailers, reprocessors, waste companies and compliance schemes among its supporters, is calling on councils to take steps such as providing separate collection areas for the cylinders to "reduce the risk at source".
According to the ICER, there have been a "number" of incidents over the past two years where has cylinders containing flammable gases have exploded when being shredded at WEEE or metals recycling facilities as a result of being wrong deposited with mixed WEEE or scrap metal at civic amenity sites.
Gas cylinders can explode and cause fires when they enter the WEEE recycling process because they are sealed vessels storing gas at high pressure which often contain residual amounts of liquefied flammable gas when empty.
The problem was outlined by Biagio Adragna, UK manager for one of the council's members, Sims Recycling Solutions, who said: "These cylinders cause substantial damage to plant and equipment, and there is a very real risk that someone could be injured or killed."
"Treatment facilities like our own invest a significant amount in checking incoming waste and modifying equipment to reduce the impact of explosions. However, the best method of prevention is to reduce the risk at source."
Mr Adragna added that while many CA sites were already very vigilant on the issue, it was essential that everyone, including the public, was made aware of the danger of not separating the cylinders.
Commenting on the scale of the problem, the ICER's director, Claire Snow today (October 6) told letsrecycle.com that many companies would not be quick to say if they had experienced an explosion.
But, she said, "what has happened is we had two incidents last year and two in the last couple of weeks - one explosion and one stopped and pulled out before it happened again."
And, she also claimed there were likely to have been a significant number of other un-recorded occasions where the risk of explosion had been averted by workers at civic amenity sites or the recycling facilities themselves spotting the cylinders and removing them.
She noted that public awareness was particularly important, because the cylinders look as if they're made of metal and as such are placed in with metal and WEEE.
In its letter, the ICER has called on councils and their contractors to confirm whether they have taken steps to address the risk, which include:
Providing separate, designated collection areas on all civic amenity sites that are licensed for people to deposit gas cylinders;
For sites that are not able to take gas cylinders, providing information about the nearest licensed site;
Ensuring gas cylinder collection areas are clearly visible and easily accessible to the public;
Ensuring that site staff are aware of the dangers, direct gas cylinders to the designated area and remove any that are mistakenly put in WEEE or scrap metal;
Making sure there are clear signs telling everyone what to do with gas cylinders and why.
Ms Snow noted that the ICER had begun talking to Defra about some form of producer responsibility for dealing with the cylinders, but explained the awareness campaign was needed because of the cost of any scheme and the fact that it wasn't an "overnight solution".
by Nick Mann, 7th October 2010