Recycling truck blazes on the rise

Recycling truck blazes on the rise

Hazardous items sending kerbside recyclable materials up in smoke

Published: Wednesday 22 January 2020

Auckland Council is appealing to Aucklanders to do the right thing when they need to dispose of flammable and hazardous items following the third kerbside recycling collection truck blaze in less than a month.

The fires mean that potentially up to 19 tonnes of valuable recyclable materials have had to be sent to landfill instead of being recycled.

Yesterday, a fire broke out in a recycling truck in a Warkworth residential street.  Investigations are underway to determine the cause. The truck had to be diverted and the load was jettisoned in a new subdivision where the load was assessed without posing a risk to local residents, housing, or passing pedestrians and with minimal disruption to traffic.

The NZ Fire Service attended the incident, called in a loader to turn over the dumped load, and hosed down the paper and cardboard underneath to prevent the fire reigniting. The recycling truck was not damaged but it will be fully serviced and checked before being put back on the streets.

“Our kerbside recycling collection service is designed to only recycle plastic, glass, steel, and aluminium containers from our kitchens, bathrooms, and laundries, as well as paper and cardboard. Flammable and hazardous items pose a significant risk in our recycling trucks, especially when the compaction equipment is used,” says Parul Sood, General Manager Waste Solutions.

An earlier recycling truck fire happened in Green Bay last Monday, 7 October.  The NZ Fire Service was called out and doused the truck hopper, extinguishing the blaze. The truck was then diverted to Auckland Council’s Waitākere Transfer Station, where it was unloaded safely.  Investigators found the culprit to be a lithium-ion battery that someone had placed in their recycling bin.

In September, another fire occurred where the cause was unable to be determined. It is suspected the blaze was caused by hot barbecue ash being tipped into a kerbside recycling bin.

“We had a similar spate of fires around this time last year. It is a major concern.  Everything from gas bottles to batteries to an Xbox console have been the underlying causes.”

Ms Sood says it’s been fortunate that, to date, no one has been harmed, given the danger these fires present to truck operators, passing pedestrians, and other vehicles.

“It’s a shame to see tonnes of recyclable materials going up in smoke. Once the materials are burnt and contaminated by foam, we have to send the materials to landfill.  It’s a backwards step for our environment.  Next week is Recycling Week NZ, so we’d encourage Aucklanders to do their bit and recycle right.”

What to do with used batteries

We can put single-use alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, C and D sized) in our rubbish bin, but not in our recycling bin.  It’s better, however, to take these to a battery recycler to be recycled. 

Lead, mercury, nickel, car, and zinc-based batteries are all considered hazardous items and should not be placed in either our kerbside rubbish or recycling bins.  These need to be taken to an authorised battery recycler – lead acid, wet cell lead, mercury, nickel, car, zinc carbon, and zinc chloride batteries.

Lithium-based batteries used to power items such as mobile/cell phones, hearing aids, power banks, laptops, electric vehicles, power tools, and vapers are also hazardous items, which cannot be put in our rubbish or recycling bins.  These outlets can help you to safely recycle or dispose of them.

Want to learn more about recycling

To test your knowledge of what can and can’t be recycled, check out the council’s online Recycle Right game.  It’s a fun way to find out if you’re a recycling legend.

Auckland Council also has a recycling search tool if people are unsure as to whether an item can be recycled or not.