Fire Rover’s annual report found that fires that affected e-scrap facilities and drew news media coverage rose in 2023, bucking the overall trend of fewer fires across facility types. | Piotr Zajda/Shutterstock

Nine major fires were publicly reported at electronics recycling facilities in the U.S. and Canada last year, up from five the year before, according to an annual review of media coverage conducted by fire protection firm Fire Rover.

The company on March 11 released the seventh edition of the report, prepared by Fire Rover’s vice president of fire protection services, Ryan Fogelman. 

The report is based entirely on news reports of fires at recycling facilities, meaning it only counts the larger fires that made it to the point of media coverage. Fogelman performs an internet search for various keywords, such as “fire” and “recycling,” to come up with the results. By nature, that means the report is looking at only a portion of the fires.

“I believe these are about six times small,” Fogelman said of the numbers during a March 12 webinar outlining the results. He said he tries to be conservative with the figures, because the goal isn’t to scare people but simply to use some type of data for a yearly comparison: “What I’m trying to do is create a number.”

In his report, Fogelman noted the e-scrap industry faces some unique challenges when it comes to fire danger. The level of worker training and worker safety measures can vary widely, and e-scrap companies face a constantly changing device stream, where they have to create custom processes for handling each new device. Fogelman contrasted this system with merchandise return systems, which “allow a specific manufacturer to control how they disassemble and reuse or dispose of their products’ components, specifically batteries.”

“Regardless of the operators’ experience, recycling general electronics comes with many different processes, such as disassembly and removal of lithium-ion batteries in products, which exposes them to fire risks,” the report stated. “Unfortunately, operators performing this necessary function for society are often left to hold the bag with most of the risk and cost of fire dangers.”

The e-scrap facility fire increase ran counter to the overall trend of fewer recycling fires last year. Across all recycling facility types – including e-scrap, scrap metal, C&D debris, rubber and organics – 373 fires were reported by news media, down 4% year over year. And in materials recovery facilities and transfer stations, the trend was even more pronounced: 2023 brought 187 reported fires in these sites, down from 205 the prior year.

The general scrap metal sector saw a slight rise, reporting 116 fires, up from 112 the prior year.

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