The number of fires at Swedish waste management sites has risen sharply, in both frequency and intensity, during the last few years. In most cases, the cause of these fires is unknown and Linnaeus University now wants to establish a national network to stop what otherwise risks becoming a pandemic of waste site fires.
Using data from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, Asim Ibrahim, associate senior lecturer at the Department of Biology and Environmental Science, has mapped out all waste site fires in Sweden between 2012 and 2018.
The study shows that in nearly half of the cases it is impossible to establish the cause of the waste site fires. In 21 percent of the cases, self-ignition is stated as the cause of the fire and as many as 16 percent are classified as arson.
Linnaeus University now wants to lead the way to develop a national network together with, among others, the waste management industry, fire and rescue services, and insurance companies to handle the issue of waste site fires, to look into the reasons for this development, and to establish what preventive work can be done.
“We must address the problems, otherwise we risk ending up in a situation where we have created our own pandemic of waste site fires. The longer this takes, the more challenging it will be to stop it”, explains William Hogland, professor of environmental technology and ecotechnology at Linnaeus University.
Economic losses and great environmental impact
Several of the waste site fires that were mapped out in the study resulted in total destruction of entire facilities. In addition to the economic values that were ruined, waste site fires also have great environmental impact, and this type of incidents severely disrupt the waste streams and materials recycling.
Considering the environmental consequences, the fires have resulted in a prioritised research agenda to conduct research on waste site fires. The research conducted by The Environmental Science and Engineering Group (ESEG) at Linnaeus University covers almost three decades and has so far produced three doctors within the field.
As a first step, William Hogland and Asim Ibrahim have now worked out a preliminary programme to gather interested actors. The first activity will be a seminar about the set of problems and potential participants can expect to receive an invitation shortly.
“Another purpose of the network is that it should also contribute to strengthening Swedish technical competitiveness, which is very important in order to guarantee the supply of critical raw materials like, for instance, waste fuels for the EU region”, Hogland concludes.