According to Keith Bradford, Technical Manager for US-headquartered Drew Marine Signal & Safety, manufacturer of Pains Wessex and Comet products, there are various options available for the disposal of time expired pyrotechnics.

The sight of a red pyrotechnic flare illuminating the sky is the most universally recognised signal indicating distress offshore. It has been saving lives at sea for more than one hundred years. However, the safe and legal disposal of these pyrotechnics is often discussed – as they go out of date and need to be disposed of following the correct local regulations, through recognised initiatives or industry bodies.

Pyrotechnic flares are built to rigorous specifications to keep people alive at sea. While they contain explosive materials, they are constructed so they will not go off in a marine environment without deliberately activating them. However they are not designed to go through a compactor or shredder found at recycling facilities and the act of crushing them or shredding them, even when they are out of date, could set them off. Therefore it is of paramount importance that commercial vessel operators use the channels available to dispose of flares safely and legally.

Out of date flares, or Time Expired Pyrotechnics (TEP) or Miscellaneous Pyrotechnics (MPs), are hazardous goods not hazardous waste, and it is illegal to dump flares at sea or on land. When a pyrotechnic marine distress signal expires, it is automatically classified in Explosive Hazard Division 1.2. Primarily, this is due to the unknown mixtures of different flares, the lack of original packaging for transport purposes and the potential for the load to contain items purchased outside of the EU.

When purchasing pyrotechnics, it is important to check with the supplier whether they will accept TEPs back once they have expired or not. This solution offers a straightforward and simple option for disposal. Commercial vessels usually use the relevant raft service station to dispose of TEP/MPs as most service stations are removing out of dates flares from rafts every day.

Professional disposal companies such as, in the UK Ramora UK, EOD and MAST Ltd offer specialist services, whereby out of date TEP/MPs can be taken and responsibly disposed of. The organisation has worked alongside the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to create a solution for the legal storage, transportation and disposal of expired pyrotechnics.

If in doubt, contact your country’s coastguard who will advise where to take expired flares for disposal.