Warning after battery sparks fire at South Shields recycling village

Recycling chiefs have issued a warning after a carelessly discarded battery caused a waste fire at South Tyneside’s tip.

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 1:16 pm
Cllr Ernest Gibson disposing of batteries at Middlefields. Picture taken before the current stay-at-home order was in place

The fire at Middlefields Recycling Village is believed to have been started by sparks from a phone battery, which had been thrown into the waste and then caused other material to ignite.

Staff on site reacted quickly to get the fire under control and limit any damage. But South Tyneside Council said such incidents could be avoided.

Councillor Ernest Gibson, lead member for Area Management and Community Safety at the authority, said: “Incidents like this really highlight the dangers of not disposing of batteries properly, the damage it can cause and the risk it poses to the safety of waste officers.

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“Had it not been for quick-thinking staff at Middlefields, there could have been a serious incident like we have seen in other parts of the region recently. The consequences could have been disastrous.

“We would urge people to dispose of their batteries safely at the Recycling Village or take them to one of a number of battery recycling points across the borough.”

It is the second blaze at a recycling and waste depot in the North East in recent months.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service was called to the Campground Household Waste and Recycling Centre in Springwell Road at 2.30am on Sunday, February 28, after a fire broke out inside a waste transfer station.

It had been holding non-hazardous waste which had been collected from recycling centres during the weekend and the blaze was expected to burn for days.

Marc Morley, Gateshead Council's service director for Highways and Waste, said: “Two fires in as many weeks show the very real dangers of throwing old phone or laptop batteries into the bin.

“These types of batteries can hold a surprisingly powerful charge and when they are thrown into a bin there is a serious risk that they could be damaged and touch something metal, like the inside of the bin lorry or even an empty tin can. This is known to generate sparks which can ignite everything around it.

“We don't yet know for definite what caused the Wrekenton fire, but this remains the most likely cause.”

He added: “All councils are currently seeing a huge increase in the numbers of people visiting their household waste and recycling centres and it's clear that many people are spending their lockdown time in clearing out their homes and gardens. This greatly increases the risk of further fires.

“We are therefore urging the public never to throw old batteries or batter-operated devices like mobile phones into their bins. Instead, please dispose of batteries responsibly at battery recycling points in local shops, supermarkets and dozens of public buildings, at electrical retailers and other High Street stores.

“Both batteries and battery-powered devices can also be recycled at our Household Waste and Recycling Centres.”

Julie Craigie, regional manager for SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK, which serves South Tyneside, Gateshead and Sunderland, said: “If batteries or battery-operated devices are put in a general waste or recycling bin, as soon as they are tipped into the collection trucks they become dangerous and can cause fires.

“We know that people won’t intentionally cause a fire and risk injury to collection crews and damage to our facilities, but by not disposing of batteries and electronic devices properly that is what can happen.”

She added: “We would ask everyone to please take a moment to consider what you are throwing into the bin and if it is battery or a device with a sealed battery unit, please dispose of it correctly. There are battery collection points in most supermarkets and many High Street shops, and small electrical items can be taken you your nearest Household Waste and Recycling Centre.”

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