Kicking the Flare Disposal Problem Down the Road

Editorial – By Gus Giobbi –

They’re not just hazardous waste; they’re explosive hazardous waste.

We’re talking about out of date flares. Each year, the number of places that will accept expired flares for “free” continues to dwindle. Topping the list is the recent decision of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to no longer accept them, preceded by the same decision by most fire department stations.

The emphasis here is on the word free. So what are boaters doing with their expired flares? Unfortunately, many boaters are just letting them accumulate on their boats, or worse yet, hazardously igniting them or tossing them into the trash or dumping them into the ocean, creating a whole different sort of environmentally hazardous conditions.

In what is a truly Catch-22 situation in California, you have the U.S. Coast Guard on one hand mandating boaters to have current signalling devices which includes flares, but they won’t accept expired flares for disposal; and on the other hand, it is actually currently illegal in California to even “collect” expired flares to send out of state to places that will take them. (See California Department of Toxic Substance Control Pilot Program for flares).

Even the companies that sell flares to boaters are distancing themselves from this “hot” potato. West Marine for example told BlueSkyNews that they “do not accept expired flares for disposal at their store locations”, and that “they are not aware of any places in our area to dispose of flares.”

There are of course places you can take expired flares for disposal (See Clean Harbors for example), but it costs money, and it involves much more effort than simply taking the old flares up to the marina manager’s office.

According to the California Coast Commission, “An estimated 174,000 expired pyrotechnic marine flares are generated each year by recreational vessels in California. With this large number of pyrotechnic flares expiring annually in California, increased public awareness of proper disposal options is needed.”

While California struggles to find an environmentally acceptable solution to the flare problem, a long term solution lies in the replacement of flares with the newly available Coast Guard compliant electronic distress signalling devices.