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Review of waste storage laws urged

The law governing waste storage is outdated and needs tightening up after a spate of blazes at recycling plants, according to a senior firefighter.

Phil Hales, an assistant chief fire officer with West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service, said it was time fire chiefs, government and the recycling industry had an open debate about changing current rules for waste storage sites, branding them as "more than 30 years out of date".

He spoke out after his fire service tackled a serious blaze at a recycling plant which sent 500 tonnes of paper up in smoke in the early hours.

There have been almost 20 separate fires at recycling sites in the West Midlands alone since January, with senior firefighters in the region warning they are placing "a drain on resources".

In the wake of the latest incident, the recycling industry's largest trade body said there was "no magic answer" to tackling the problem, but added it would be working to help drive up standards and share best practice among its membership.

Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association which represents 65 members nationally, said there had been "an extraordinary spate" of such fires following a very dry period of weather, with seemingly no single set of causes or solutions.

In July, a Chinese lantern was blamed for igniting 10,000 tonnes of plastic bales stored at a huge open-air site in Smethwick; labelled the largest blaze the region's fire service had ever dealt with.

Following that incident, West Midlands Chief Fire Officer and president of the Chief Fire Officers Association Vij Randeniya said he wanted to meet recycling industry figures to discuss ways of preventing fires.

His deputy Mr Hales said with recycling now "big business" it had led to a "massive increase" in the number of recycling sites, growing to 57 in the West Midlands alone, and the law now needed modernising to reflect the changes.

He said the fire service wanted new minimum standards set out for the storage of plastics, paper and cardboard, which are often kept in bulk on industrial sites in built-up areas.

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