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Recycling industry associations are our best fire prevention resource

Recycling industry associations are our best fire prevention resource

It is no secret that fires are a recurring issue for recyclers across the world. Recycling facilities are a unique business environment, which makes fires almost unavoidable for those in the industry. The best way to prepare recycling professionals for the inevitable is to develop fire prevention and management plans and policies that will limit the spread of the fire and minimize the damage. But recyclers need not worry about going it alone when it comes to fire safety planning. There is (fire) safety in numbers, and there is a wealth of resources out there to help.

In 2020, the waste and recycling industry experienced 317 reported facility fires in the U.S. and Canada, according to fire safety solutions company Fire Rover's annual report on fires in the industry. Most of these fires occurred in facilities that process waste, paper and plastics (158), and scrap metal (108). There were 23 reported injuries and three fatalities from these fires, either directly or indirectly. And these were only the media-reported cases; the same report estimates the real number is well over 2,000. 

The causes for these fires depend not only on the characteristics of each facility, such as the materials they recycle or the way they are configured, but also on the season, which influences what ends up in the recycling bin. In an environment where so many inherent risks exist, fire prevention and management should be a top priority. However, this does not mean recyclers are left to fend for themselves. Industry associations, including CARI (Canadian Association of Recycling Industries) and ISRI(Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries), are in a position to help seek out experts, compile best practices and develop guidelines. They are here to assist members with the very important matter of fire safety and prevention. 

CARI and ISRI collaborate closely on most of the issues affecting the recycling industry, including fire safety. Members of both associations have exclusive access to a variety of fire prevention resources, including guidance tools, such as ISRI's "Guide to Creating a Fire Prevention and Management Plan", industry-specific safety manuals, including CARI's HR and Safety Manuals, and safety training, available for members of both associations. By taking advantage of and helping shape these learning materials and opportunities, recyclers are a huge part of the effort to solve an industry-wide problem that is not just limited to North America but is present around the globe.

Fires at recycling facilities have also raised insurance issues, as insurers are wary of writing policies for recycling businesses, which has contributed to skyrocketing premium prices and made coverage difficult to obtain. In this kind of environment, CARI has developed the Group Property and Casualty Insurance Program which gives recyclers better access to insurance at a lower cost.

Considering the magnitude of the issue in recycling facilities, peer support and the sharing of best practices are the best tools a recycler can have to prevent fires where possible and be prepared to mitigate damage when a fire occurs. 
Industry associations have created spaces for members to share their fire prevention stories, whether successful or not, with their peer network. These spaces are available for CARI members through networking events involving hundreds of key players in the Canadian and North American recycling industry.

In this industry, there will be fires. We need to take steps to guarantee the safety of our employees and customers and ensure our employees are trained to control fires and mitigate damage. Fortunately, the resources to achieve this are out there. Both CARI and ISRI members are encouraged not only to take advantage of these resources but also to approach their associations and help develop new materials and opportunities that will address ongoing fire management and prevention challenges in the industry. 

María Santarini is the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries communications manager. 

This article was originally published as the Last Word in the May/June 2021 edition of Recycling Product News, Volume 29, Number 4.

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