OPINION: ‘Gas canisters and climate change’

OPINION: Dr Tim Rotheray, director of ESG at Viridor, discusses how small steps such as ensuring gas canisters stay out of the waste stream can help reduce climate change.


Last week saw multiple record temperatures across the UK. The London Fire Brigade reported its busiest ever day since the second world war as parched forests exploded into flame under the intense heat. The met office told us that these temperatures were not attainable without the release of climate warming gasses into our environment – in short, human activity made these scenes happen.

A reaction can be one of a sense of doom. That there is nothing that I can do. This is a global problem and I’m just one of over seven billion. What I do does not matter.

Dr Rotheray from Viridor warns of risks associated with the pressurised canisters

But this ignores reality. The reason for climate change is billions on billions of small decisions – to fly or drive to act in a way that causes emissions. And just as the negative impacts are accumulated decisions so are the positive ones.

In the waste sector, we have seen a reduction in climate causing emissions of nearly two thirds since 1990. Why? Because we have massively cut landfilling and started recycling. Every time someone recycles paper, card and especially plastic, we are able to replace energy hungry raw materials with recycled products. The really significant emissions reductions have been driven by decisions people take in their homes every day. Little acts make a difference.

Gas bottles

But this works both ways. As camping and barbeque season is in full swing, the waste management sector sees an increasing number of gas bottles being thrown out as general waste. These gas bottles, even if they are empty, explode when they go though an energy recovery facility.

As barbeque season is in full swing, canisters are on the rise too

This has three impacts. Firstly, the exploding gas uses all the oxygen in the air. That causes partial combustion creating carbon monoxide – a pollutant and a greenhouse gas. The careless throwing out of gas bottles causes a local air pollution risk. Secondly the explosion often damages the Energy Recovery Facility. This can require waste processing to stop and be sent to landfill. Landfill has a far higher greenhouse gas footprint than energy recovery so this further pushes up emissions. Finally and most importantly, an explosion creates a risk to the health and safety of those who make sure our bins are taken away and processed safely every day.

At Viridor, we are actively trialling artificial intelligence to detect gas bottles in the waste so that we can extract them before they cause harm. But it would be far easier if we all ensure that we continued recycling as we know we can. Separating out recycling and preventing it from going to non-recyclable waste streams improves air quality, reduces emissions and helps protect the worlds resources. With the latest technology and making use of AI, the waste management sector is driving down emissions and helping to minimise the impact of wastes like gas bottles but ultimately, our ability to make change depends on the acts of all of us.

Each of us in our homes and offices, recycling and taking dangerous materials – gas bottles and batteries to the local tip for recycling. If at times we feel hopeless in the face of a changing climate, sometimes we just need to look in our homes and realise that the simplest acts like recycling really do make a big difference.

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