10 October 2023

Small gas cylinder thought to be cause of fire at Westhill recycling centre

Aberdeenshire Council believes the recent fire at Westhill recycling centre was caused by a gas cylinder alongside a substantial amount of electricals incorrectly disposed of in a general waste skip.

The fire occurred on Friday 22 September after, what the council believed to be, a small gas canister exploding and igniting the contents of a general waste skip during routine compaction.

Among the remains were substantial amounts of waste electrical and electronic equipment, as well as other canisters, all of which are recyclable—and all of which should never be in general waste or recycling bins as they are known to be serious fire hazards.

At recycling centres in Aberdeenshire, gas canisters should be disposed of separately in the cylinder cage and anything with a plug, cable, or battery goes into the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) container.

The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service brought the blaze under control, as well as the neighbouring wood skip which began to smoke from the radiated heat.

A further incident occurred just two days later, on Sunday 24 September, when a collection of disposable vapes also exploded during compaction at Westhill recycling centre, again having been incorrectly placed in a general waste skip instead of the WEEE container.

Chair of the council’s Infrastructure Services Committee Councillor Alan Turner said: “Gas cylinders, vapes, and batteries should never be placed in general waste. Recycling centres are fantastic facilities, accessible for free across Aberdeenshire that help everyone to ensure that valuable raw materials are recovered that would otherwise go to waste.

“However, when using these facilities, there is a responsibility for everyone to appropriately separate their recycling before their visit in a way that does not cause risk of harm to the recycling centres or the hard-working staff that provide such a valuable service.”

Head of Aberdeenshire Council’s Environment and Sustainability Services Ewan Wallace said: “Understandably, it is a terrible experience for any officer to be present for an explosion in their workplace. Even more so for someone operating machinery to crush the contents of black bags that should only contain materials that cannot be recycled.

“Never place batteries, vapes, or gas canisters in household bins or general waste skips as there is a real risk of these items causing fires in bins, recycling centres, and waste collection vehicles. The result is significant and costly damage to equipment and the environment and—more importantly—risks harm to those helping everyone to do their part.”

Discarded or hoarded household electricals cost the UK economy £370 million per year in lost valuable raw materials such as gold, copper, aluminium, and steel.

Producing electricals creates carbon emissions, but recycling old electricals would cut as much CO2 as taking 1.3 million cars off the road.

Removable batteries should never be put in the bin. Household batteries can be placed in freely provided pink-battery recycling bags and left on top of your kerbside household recycling or refuse bin lid for weekly collection. Blazes caused by batteries cost emergency services in the UK more than £5.8 million per year.

Officers at recycling centres are happy to help direct householders to the various containers where different materials can be properly and safely recycled.

For more information about what is accepted, visit Aberdeenshire Council’s household recycling centres page.