Increased fire risk in sorting centres
It is a worrying trend. At the PreZero PMD sorting centre in Evergem they are finding more and more small electrical appliances and batteries in the blue bags. Site manager Sam Coomans sounds the alarm. “The batteries can ignite because of mechanical damage and they are a real danger for the people working in our sorting centre.”
Since the introduction of the New Blue Bag, far more things can be put with PMD than was previously the case. All plastic packaging is now permitted, including pots, trays, films and bags. However, some people go a little too far in their enthusiasm to sort more. “When we carried out checks we noted that in some batches, batteries and small electrical appliances rolled across the conveyor every few minutes. That makes us particularly uneasy, given the major risk of fire”, says Sam Coomans of PreZero, one of the five new sorting centres in Belgium that are responsible for sorting the PMD bags.
Fire risk caused by mechanical damage
The main culprits are lithium batteries. We are used to having them in smartphones and laptops, but they are also increasingly found in small electrical appliances such as shavers, torches, toys or drills. “We have known for a long time that if they are wrongly used, the batteries can ignite”, says Sam Coomans. “This releases gases, and can even cause flame jets or small explosions.”
The risk of fire occurs particularly when there’s mechanical damage to the battery. “And that is where the greatest danger lies for our sorting centre. Damage can be caused among other things by the wheel loader or the grab on a crane that moves the bags around, or when the bags are torn open mechanically at the start of the process. Our sorting centre has only been open since May last year, but we have already had a couple of near-incidents – so far without major consequences thanks to our fire safety and detection systems. We also work with artificial intelligence to quickly detect and respond to disruptions in the sorting process that could lead to a fire..”
Serious danger for staff
Despite all these measures, the risk of a full-blown blaze is not fanciful, because PMD in itself is highly flammable. After all, plastics are made from an oil-based material. A small flame jet could be enough to cause a fire. What is more, the burning material can very quickly spread through the whole plant via the sorting conveyors.
The possible material damage in the sorting centre is just one part of the story. “About a hundred people work in our sorting centre in Evergem, near Ghent. They are responsible for things like quality control and machine maintenance. Their safety is our main concern. So we are calling on people to think twice about what they put in the PMD bag”, Sam Coomans concludes.
What should you do with batteries and electrical appliances?
PMD > packaging only. The P in PMD stands for plastic packaging. The best thing to do with all other (large) plastic items, such as toys or buckets, is to take them to your recycling park. For more information, go to www.fostplus.be.
Batteries > Bebat. You can hand in used batteries that you can remove from the device at one of the many Bebat collections points found throughout Belgium, including at most recycling parks and supermarkets. For more information, go to www.bebat.be.
Electrical appliances > Recupel. Old electrical and electronic appliances can be taken to all Recupel collection points, including recycling parks, charity or thrift shops and electrical stores. For more information, go to www.recupel.be.