If you are in Salford, or in fact anywhere near Salford, there's a good chance you will have seen an orange glow emanating from Frederick Road, or one of the armada of fire engines carrying dozens of firemen to the JWS Waste facility which was blazing away.
Accidents happen and fires break out, and there's nothing especially remarkable about this one on the face of it. In fact it's especially unremarkable given that recycling centres seem to catch fire with astonishing regularity.
A thread on the site Pistonheads.com has been tracking these fires since November 2013, around 18 months ago and links to reports of major fires every few weeks. The reasons given range from stray Chinese lanterns to discarded cigarettes and even spontaneous combustion under the weight of the rubbish.
And it's not just me being cynical. There have been prosecutions and permits revoked in the more blatant cases. Yet nobody seems to question if there is something in the set up of the industry which makes recycling centres especially prone to catching fire.
The other striking feature of this phenomenon is that if you Google "recycling fires" an overwhelming proportion of the results come from the United Kingdom. Is there something about a cold, damp island which makes these fires so much more likely here than in Australia or Nevada? Then how come other businesses with large quantities of flammable materials don't catch fire with such suspicious regularity? Perhaps there is something about the way this so called industry operates here which makes these fires more likely?
In a nutshell these organisations charge customers such as tyre fitters to collect their old tyres for recycling - if you remember they started charging £1 a tyre disposal fee a few years ago. Next they hoover up the generous subsidies, grants and tax breaks the government affords this "green" industry, while storing all their recyclables in a big flammable pile, and take out insurance against it catching fire. Then some bloody fool with a Chinese lantern or a cigarette butt comes along and before you know it thousands of tonnes of "stock" are blazing away, never to be recycled and the owners have to settle for a measly insurance pay out instead of the untold millions they would have made from selling plant pots made out of old tyres or windcharms made from plastic bottles.
It is a blatant, grand scale fraud which is costing millions of pounds, endangering fire crews and any legitimate business unfortunate enough to be next door to one of these facilities and by any measure an environmental disaster. Yet we allow it to continue because somehow this is deemed to be good for "the environment."
Many years ago if you wanted to hire a skip you could call a local company who would send a (usually) greasy man with foul language around to deliver a skip. A couple of weeks later he would come and collect it, sell anything of value and take the rest to landfill. Then they essentially killed this business with landfill tax, meaning only big companies who could show a lot of green credentials were able to offer competitive skip hire. Of course many of them were still ultimately scrap men, who despite the glossy green brochures and pictures of trees were out to make a quick buck.
It is complete nonsense. The whole thing is a way of "recycling" public money as private profit for criminals, and so long as we keep the ridiculous system of grants, subsidies and regulations in place our fire brigades will be very busy.