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Fire Extinguisher Disposal: Not All Methods Are Made Equal

05 October 2020

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS are full of pressurised chemicals so it follows that they cannot simply be thrown into the rubbish. Rather, certain steps must be taken to ensure safe disposal.

Our world is changing. Trends in urbanisation and population growth require more sustainable solutions to move the world forward. From a business perspective, sustainability means that companies can do good for the planet, while also doing good for their employees, communities and customers.

The very tool that’s often used to counter the threat of fire also poses an environmental and physical threat of its own. A fire extinguisher is a pressurised product and classified as hazardous waste. This means care must be taken in its disposal to avoid causing harm to people and the environment.

There have been a number of cases recorded in the media of accidents occurring as a result of fire extinguishers not being disposed of in the correct manner. When it comes to fire extinguishers, not all disposal methods are made equal. In reality, there are significant differences in safety and environmental impact depending on the disposal method selected.

For example, there was a very serious incident of a fire extinguisher being carelessly thrown into the back of a rubbish collection lorry. This might sound like a routine and harmless incident. However, the pressure of the rubbish collection truck caused the ‘disposed of’ fire extinguisher to explode. Luckily, no-one was injured, but the risk posed to the waste collection workers and those people in the surrounding area was significant. This incident could have been totally avoided with the application of the correct fire extinguisher disposal method.

Environmental risk

While domestic disposal is provided by the state, businesses are required to dispose of their fire extinguishers themselves. While most businesses are populated by responsible citizens, there are some who resort to illegal fly-tipping. Earlier this year, 400 fire extinguishers were found dumped in an unseemly pile in the UK’s Peak District, causing an environmental risk as well as danger to life.

What questions should you ask of yourself when looking to dispose of your fire extinguisher(s)? First of all, what’s the rating and type of your fire extinguisher(s)?

At what point in its lifecycle is your fire extinguisher and has it been used before?

Is your fire extinguisher still pressurised? Always look to release any excess pressure and leave your fire extinguisher to settle for a few days.

Where can you dispose of any used fire extinguishers? Don’t just throw out your fire extinguisher(s), and definitely don’t leave such equipment out in the street. Domestic disposal is available through recycling centres. Commercial disposal is available through your chosen fire and security services provider.

Dedicated disposal facilities

Last year, Chubb Fire & Security’s Extinguisher Recycling Unit, itself a dedicated facility offering a service for the safe processing, recycling and disposal of fire extinguishers across the UK, recycled over 85,784 fire extinguishers. The recycled plastic can be re-used in road surfacing products, children’s play areas, rail production for aggregates or simply recycled to have a new life as another product.

As a business, we’ve worked closely with the Environment Agency to develop safe, efficient and environmentally friendly processes, ensuring that our recycling site maintains its ISO 14001 certification.

Every business has a legal responsibility to protect its people, buildings and assets from the hazards of fire. Failure to do so can result in prosecution, even if the disposal process has been outsourced to a third party. Part of this responsibility means ensuring that all firefighting equipment (including extinguishers) is maintained and serviced properly by a competent person.

Businesses are able to ensure that 100% of each fire extinguisher unit is recycled, eliminating the need for landfill. Last year, we recycled over 341,000 extinguishers, including processing more than 522,000 litres of liquid, 700 tonnes of powder, 38 tonnes of plastic, 168 tonnes of cardboard and 10 tonnes of plastic film.

As is the case with any pressurized container, a fire extinguisher should be treated with the utmost respect. In fact, a fire extinguisher can become dangerous if it has been mistreated or abused, or if it has reached the end of its lifecycle. The message here is clear. Ensure that your business complies with the necessary disposal process and always recycle responsibly.

Lee Wilkes is Assembly and Quality Operations Manager at Chubb Fire & Security. For more information, visit www.chubbfiresecurity.com