Incorrect hazardous waste disposal behind rising number of truck fires

Published on 07 February 2023


The increasing number of waste collection trucks catching fire in several Council areas across Australia has raised concerns around the incorrect disposal of hazardous waste in kerbside bins.

This February, Upper Hunter Shire Council is reminding residents to be aware and take care when disposing of problem and hazardous waste. Hazardous waste includes any items labelled as ‘flammable’, ‘combustible’, ‘corrosive’, ‘toxic’, an ‘oxidising agent’, ‘poisonous’ or requiring caution.

This includes household items like batteries, e-waste (electrical waste), cleaning and gardening chemicals, paint and gas bottles.

When hazardous waste is incorrectly placed in kerbside bins, there is a significant risk of a fire starting. This is due to the compacting equipment present in collection trucks, which crushes the waste.

Truck fires pose a significant health and safety risk to waste workers and the community, can cause damage to collection vehicles, result in high clean-up and truck repair/replacement costs, disrupt kerbside collection services and are potentially harmful to the environment.

Council’s Waste Management Coordinator Oscar Gallagher said Council is asking residents to help keep the community safe by ensuring that problem and hazardous waste items are not placed in kerbside bins.

“Household batteries are particularly dangerous, and are the main cause of fires in waste collection trucks,” said Mr Gallagher. “They also contain toxic substances like mercury, lead, lithium and cadmium, which can leach into the surrounding environment or expose workers to potential injury when not disposed of correctly.”

“It’s important that residents dispose of their waste appropriately and bear in mind someone may come into physical contact with it. This is a particular risk with recycling, which is not just sorted by machines, but also by hand by workers at a Materials Recovery Facility,” said Mr Gallagher.

There are several ways the community can safely and correctly dispose of problem and hazardous waste, either through Council’s resource recovery centres, transfer stations or other drop-off locations.

The Community Recycling Centre is a permanent drop-off point located at the Scone Resource Recovery Centre, where problem/hazardous waste items can be taken for free for reuse and specialised recycling.

Items such as batteries, gas bottles, smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, motor and other oils, paint and fluoro globes and tubes are accepted. Residents are reminded that pre-sorting different waste types prior to arriving at the waste facility means that items which are free to drop off will not be mixed with those which attract a fee, saving money in the process.