Wheelie Bin Fires: How to Mitigate the Risks

Table of Contents:

The Fire Risks Posed by Wheelie Bins

Fire damaged wheelie bin
Melting plastic is acutely toxic

Every year, there are in excess of 30,000 refuse-related fire incidents attended by Fire & Rescue Services across the United Kingdom. Wheelie bin fires, specifically, can be devastating, with the effects able to escalate rapidly. At a base level, the impact of the fire will render the bin useless for the owner and incur financial expenditures as a result of replacement. 

But the damage likely won’t simply stop there. These fires can very easily spread and if an incident occurs close to a building or openings such as doors and windows, there is a very real risk of the fire penetrating the building, with damage to the property, human injuries and ultimately even fatalities, possible consequences that give rise to significant safety concerns. 

Moreover, an ignited wheelie bin will release a dangerous, toxic combination of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, both of which are considered hugely detrimental for both human health and the environment.

The Causes of Wheelie Bin Fires

Wheelie bins and the contents contained inside impose a substantial fire load risk and are often vulnerable to ignition. According to a report by Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, the fire loading for 3 bins creates a similar fire load as a small car with petrol inside it. Plastics act as a reasonable fuel for fire and are generally classed to be combustible, falling into the same category as wood and other common materials.

Cases of wheelie bin fires have also steadily risen in recent times, partly due to a dangerous craze conducted by youths in some areas of the country. While some retailers will manufacture their wheelie bins to withstand high temperatures, this isn’t necessarily the norm across the market. Ultimately, wheelie bin fires do happen, and, considering the severity of risks involved, it’s crucial to understand how and why they happen.

Wheeling bin fire
Fires can start small and spread

The leading causes of wheelie bin fires are often attributed to either arson or accidental fires. The household or establishment using the bin might overfill it with waste or place certain flammable materials inside which essentially then act as kindling when coming into contact with things like discarded BBQ coals and cigarettes, or electrical appliances containing lithium-ion batteries, which can ignite or even explode when disposed of incorrectly and damaged, leading to significant fire risks.

In terms of arson, the perpetrator often doesn’t intend to cause damage beyond the wheelie bin itself, with most cases linked to individuals engaging in anti-social behaviour and setting fire to waste purely for the thrill of it. However, these incidents can often spiral out of control, leading to devastating results. 

Over the last few years, fire crews in SittingbourneEastbourne and Consett were forced to attend to numerous incidents of wheelie bin fires, all of which were considered to be deliberate. In West Denton, Newcastle upon Tyne, 50 wheelie bin fires were reported across a single month in 2022.

Tips for Prevention of Wheelie Bin Fires – Households

To mitigate both the likelihood of wheelie bin fires occurring and the risks involved, there are a number of preventative measures that can be taken to ensure optimum safety for households. 

Alleyway full of wheelie bins
Alleyways are unfit for bin storage

It is worth noting, however, that these steps aren’t necessarily applicable to every household. For terraced houses and other forms of high-density housing, the only available place to store a wheelie bin might be directly in front of the property in order to allow access for both the household and bin crews. In situations such as this, the recommended 2 metre safety distance might not be attainable.

Arguably, should the responsibility in these situations not fall to Local Councils to provide safe and secure on-street containment for the respective property, and others in the vicinity, to ensure households are protected from the risks of wheelie bin fires?

Tips for Prevention of Wheelie Bin Fires – Communal Environments

In addition, there are preventative steps that apply to communal bins for flats and dwellings. In these environments, landlords and housing associations have a responsibility to ensure fire risks are mitigated for their tenants. 

Government advice recommends that wheelie bins are secured on a property so they can’t be pushed up against buildings and set alight. The recommended safety distance for storing wheelie bins varies according to the fire load, but a reliable method is to take the width of the wheelie bin(s) and add 2.5 m. The safety distance is measured from any point at which fire could enter a building, including any door and window openings.

The CFPA-E provides further guidance for calculating safety distances.

Bespoke FPA Test

FPA test of metroSTOR bin housing
The FPA test of metroSTOR PBM 1

As part of metroSTOR’s commitment to providing the highest quality product solutions, we recently engaged the Fire Protection Association (FPA), proposing a worst-case scenario test that would help to ensure that the minimum 30 minute fire resistance was routinely achieved by our bin stores and housings. This was an industry first.  

The bespoke testing programme represented a real-life scenario of a 1100L bin burning inside a metroSTOR PBM 1 Firenze FR+ Bin Store. The bin store was able to contain the fire for a total of 90 minutes before the fire burnt itself out. Temperatures inside the bin store peaked at over 1000 degrees, but the max temperature at a 1m distance didn’t exceed 51 degrees, proving that our product would prevent the fire spreading to an adjacent dwelling.

metroSTOR Solutions

PBH FR Cladding
metroSTOR PBH with FR Cladding

metroSTOR have developed and installed thousands of fire-resistant bin housings in urban environments, dwellings and larger residential developments. Our bin housings actively reduce the risk of wheelie bin fires by securing bins at a safe distance from the respective property. If this can’t be achieved due to restrictions on space, options for fire-resistant wall and roof cladding options are available, tested to BS476 classification, providing a minimum 30 minutes fire resistance.

metroSTOR Bin Store Housings can also be utilised to reduce the fire load around dwellings by eliminating problematic influences like side-waste and fly-tipping, which, aside from creating an unseemly visual impact and environmental health hazard, are also potential triggers for arson.

Read more about our range of recycling bin storage.