No laughing matter: New campaign rallies against dangerous nitrous oxide canisters

Operator of the Beddington Energy Recovery Facility, Viridor has today launched a public information campaign across four south London boroughs to raise awareness of nitrous oxide (N2O) canisters and their impact on local waste management.

According to the company, thousands of ‘creamer canisters’ have arrived at the Beddington Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) over recent months.

Mixed in with household waste, many of the pressurised canisters are intercepted but those that are missed can potentially explode when going through the waste treatment process, causing damage and risking the safety of staff.

Used primarily in the catering industry, N2O or ‘laughing gas’ is also commonly used for recreational purposes. Inhaled from a balloon and typically stored in small easily processed bullet-sized canisters, users are increasingly storing the gas in ‘super-sized’ canisters about the same size as a two-litre water bottle.

Due to the operational challenges caused by these larger canisters during disposal, Viridor is calling for residents or commercial users to recycle or dispose of them responsibly as part of its ‘Leave it Out’ campaign, which aims to help educate residents in South London about safe and sustainable disposal of canisters.

The poster for Viridor’s ‘Leave it Out’ campaign, featuring ‘Noxie’, the naughty nitrous oxide canister

Stating that the company has seen a ‘dramatic increase’ in the number of these larger gas canisters coming to the Beddington ERF, Dave O’Callaghan, Plant Manager for Viridor at Beddington added. “Whilst the plant is designed to safely deal with a wide range of non-recyclable waste, when these canisters are processed, they can explode causing damage.”

“We work around the clock to safely treat the non-recyclable waste from the South London Waste Partnership and have launched this campaign to raise awareness that these canisters are not designed to be processed by an ERF.”

The South London Waste Partnership is a collective of four boroughs (Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Sutton) that have committed to supporting the campaign.

“This alarming increase in the recreational use of N2O is a concern on many levels,” commented Counsellor Natasha Irons, Chair of the SLWP Joint Committee. “The health risks should not be under-estimated.”

Typically inhaled from a balloon and stored in these small bullet-sized canisters, users are now using larger 600g canisters for storage.

Currently, the partnership is lobbying central government for a ban on consumer sales of N2O. The UK Home Office recently responded to a call for a retail sales ban on nitrous oxide from trade body the British Compressed Gases Association (BCGA), saying that it will ‘consider council advice’ before deciding how to proceed.

Read more:Home Office responds to call for retail sales ban on nitrous oxide

Ellen Daniels, Chief Executive of the BCGA, admitted that the organisation is ‘deeply concerned’ by the rapid increase in the sale of these larger 600g N2O canisters and their impact on waste treatment facilities.

Having recently become the second most used substance among 16- to 24-year-olds, N2O was responsible for 56 deaths registered between 2001 and 2020, with 45 of them having been registered since 2010, according to the Office for National Statistics.

“We must come together to ensure that these canisters are not accessible to those in our communities that want to use this substance recreationally,” added Daniels.

“The BCGA welcomes this campaign launch in South London and we are keen to work with partners, including those in the waste management sector, to raise awareness of the issue and work towards an effective solution.”

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