Cause of Altens East MRF fire remains ‘undetermined’

An investigation has been unable to determine the cause of the huge fire at Suez UK’s Altens East materials recycling facility (MRF) in Aberdeen, though the blaze was ruled “accidental”.

The fire at Suez's Altens East MRF began on 8 July (picture: @SFRS_Shetland)

More than 100 firefighters tackled the fire, which broke out in a large area of mixed waste at the £27 million facility in July 2022 (see letsrecycle.com story).

Suez says the MRF, which is still closed, is “severely damaged”. The company says it is in the process of identifying what the facility requires to “get back up and running”.

The MRF’s closure saw Aberdeen’s dry mixed recycling diverted to a facility near Hartlepool, around 280 miles away with material from Suez’s other council contracts going to a facility near Fife (see letsrecycle.com story).

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service told letsrecycle.com they did not usually release the causes of fires. However, “given the scale of the incident and heightened public interest,” they were prepared to do so in this case.

A spokesperson for the fire service said: “A joint investigation with Police Scotland into the Altens recycling centre fire incident has concluded. The incident was recorded as an accidental fire with the cause being undetermined.”


Richard Hinchcliffe, regional manager at Suez, said that while it was “impossible to prove conclusively”, it is “highly probable” the fire was caused by a battery or battery-operated device for such as an electric toothbrush or vape that a resident put in their recycling bin.

Mr Hinchcliffe asked residents to dispose of their batteries and battery-operated devices “responsibly”.

Aberdeen city council told letsrecycle.com the fire service’s findings followed a “thorough investigation”. The council thanked the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for their efforts in attempting to determine the cause of the fire.

‘Severely damaged’

Following the blaze, the Altens East MRF was “severely damaged”, Mr Hinchcliffe said, and requires “significant repair”.

What remains of the operational areas will need to be demolished

– Richard Hinchcliffe, regional manager at Suez

He added: “We have been working at pace with our insurance company and contractors on-site to understand the level of damage and what work is needed to get the facility back up and running.

“We are hopeful that the offices are salvageable but what remains of the operational areas will need to be demolished before a new facility can be built.”

Suez continues to divert the recyclables collected by Aberdeen city council to Hartlepool as “the nearest available facility that can handle the full range”.

However, Mr Hinchliffe said he wanted to reassure residents their recyclable materials continued to be recycled and sent for processing “in the normal way”. He asked residents to continue to recycle.

A spokesperson for Aberdeen city council said: “The fire caused substantial damage which will require extensive repair. However, thanks to the efforts of employees at the site and Aberdeen city council’s waste and recycling team, only one day’s collections were impacted and services including recycling will continue as normal thanks the continencies we have in place.”

Altens East

Suez officially opened the Altens East MRF in Aberdeen in October 2017 (see letsrecycle.com story). It was equipped by MRF machinery manufacturer Bulk Handling Systems (BHS).

Suez officially opened the Altens East MRF in Aberdeen in October 2017

Dry mixed recyclables collected from homes and businesses were sorted at the facility, before being sold as materials for reprocessing.

The facility was capable of processing 20 tonnes of mixed recycling including glass, cardboard, newspaper, plastics and metals an hour.

In June, Aberdeen council agreed to extend its waste management contract with Suez by more than three years, which will now see the deal run until 2029 (see letsrecycle.com story).

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