Fires in waste treatment plants in Spain

by | Nov 10, 2020 | Publications

TAGS Latest | waste
Unfortunately, there have been hundreds of fires at Spanish waste recycling plants over recent years, particularly since 2012.

The most reliable data on these incidents to date are found in the media, mostly in online newspapers. Since records started eight years ago, there have been 342 fires in these facilities.

Such fires can cause a range of environmental damage:

  • Articles deposited on the soil, surface water bodies and/or riparian vegetation.
  • Surface waters and soil contaminated due to uncontrolled discharge of extinguishing liquids.
  • Hazardous products disposed of by burning their containers.
  • Loss of birdlife due to explosions of flammable products associated with these types of accidents…

The majority of these occur in facilities managing non-hazardous waste fuels and at recycling centres Together, both types of facilities account for more than 60% of all accidents, around 220, while the rest are made up of scrapyards, car breakers, and other similar sites. Although exact global figures for this type of facility are unavailable, data analysis from various media sources indicates a significant number of such facilities. The process carried out within these types of facilities is usually quite straightforward.

Firstly, waste arrives at the plant via trucks or, in the case of recycling centres, in individuals’ private vehicles. Such waste may be:

  • Hazardous.
  • Non-hazardous.

Within both groups, it is possible to distinguish between:

  • Fuels.
  • Non-combustibles.

Depending on their waste management authorisation (hazardous, non-hazardous, or both), these facilities can recycle items such as used batteries, scrap metal, glass, plastics, paper and cardboard, etc.

The recycling process will take place in accordance with the type of facility and the waste that can be processed; this process will include sorting, temporary storage, physical or chemical treatment, compacting, etc., all with the aim of giving the waste a new use once treated.

Finally, the materials are stored awaiting collection and transport, as appropriate.

As indicated, this type of activity handles waste as raw material. The hazardousness of these types of facilities will therefore depend on the type of waste treated, the total storage volume allowed, and the maintenance, protection and prevention measures in place.

The main hazards at these facilities are:

  • Volume of stored liquid waste.
  • Volume of stored combustible waste.
  • Electrical sources (transformers, wiring, etc.).
  • Processes carried out during treatment.
  • Third-party negligence.

In principle, the facilities at the highest risk of aggressive damage in the event of a fire are those storing large quantities of waste, whether hazardous or non-hazardous, with significant combustion potential; this risk will be exacerbated without good fire protection measures, or if such measures are not properly checked and maintained.

¿Qué medidas deben tomar este tipo de instalaciones para minimizar tanto número como la intensidad de estos incendios?

To keep these types of accidents to a minimum, it is important that:

  • The facility is fenced.
  • Electrical sources are regularly checked: carry out thermal imaging tests.
  • Waste is sorted by type.
  • Fire protection systems have appropriate maintenance and accessibility.
  • There is an internal emergency plan in place at the facility.
  • There is adequate preventive and corrective maintenance for all equipment.
  • etc.


Claims settlements across the country show significant dispersion, with the Autonomous Regions of Catalonia, Andalusia, Madrid and Valencian Community having the highest concentrations.



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