Which substances can you store in an IBC?
What is an IBC?
The intermediate bulk container (IBC) is an industrial-grade, reusable container that is pallet-mounted.
It is ideal for storing and transporting liquids and powders in bulk.
The IBC is designed to be stackable, and you can use a forklift or pallet jack to move it.
Why are these containers intermediate?
This refers to the volume of material they can contain, which comes between tanks and drums.
Can you use an IBC to store chemicals?
The most common materials that are stored and transported in intermediate bulk containers are:
- Food ingredients
However, this versatility has meant that their wide use includes purposes for which they were not originally designed, such as long-term storage and waste disposal.
IBCs are made from a range of materials, depending on their intended use, so it is important that the right kind of materials and substances are stored in the appropriate type.
You usually get rigid intermediate bulk containers made from high density polyethylene (HDPE) or other plastics, with a galvanised metal outer cage.
There are also flexible IBCs, also known as bulk bags, which are typically made from woven polypropylene or polyethylene.
What chemicals can you store in IBCs?
A key advantage of IBCs is the increased space they offer for the storage of chemicals.
They will usually have a capacity of 1000 litres and, like drums, are UN approved for transporting chemicals.
Because they are of an industrial grade, some IBCs can store a broad range of chemicals.
But this must involve a clear identification of material hazards, and applying special care.
You should also include combustible, but not flammable, liquids such as edible and lubricating oils, in any risk assessment.
Plastic or composite IBCs have exposed plastic components which can be vulnerable to fire, leading to containers spilling their contents.
Similarly, non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPLs) such as oil and petroleum products, may cause plastic or composite IBCs to fail when exposed to fire.
It is important, therefore, to consider the following when storing or transporting chemicals using IBCs:
- The construction material of the IBC, and whether it is appropriate
- The overall condition of the container, to make sure it is suitably stable for use with chemicals
- When stacked, the IBCs are not going beyond safe limits for loading and compatibility
- That the IBCs are not stored or stacked in such a way that they are vulnerable to fire
It is important to consider the storage site, and any risk of exposure to heat. Also think about how long the chemicals will be stored in the IBCs and whether plastic components in their valves could slowly deteriorate if exposed to chemicals for prolonged periods.
Proper risk management is vital, including making sure that IBCs containing substances that are dangerous for transport are UN-certified, in good condition, and properly segregated.
Can you use an IBC to safely store food for animals?
The most important aspects of storing food ingredients, grain and animal feed in IBCs are the storage conditions.
It is especially important to check the design, capacity and location of any secondary storage containment , for example, where you then store the IBCs.
Clearly label the containers for storage, and protect them from external weather conditions such as frost or sunlight.
The tap or valve at the base of the container makes it easy to transfer the contents into smaller containers for packaging and distribution.
What substances should you not store in IBCs?
HSE has guidelines for storing flammable liquids.
It recommends maximum quantities of no more than 50 litres for extremely flammable liquids and no more than 250 litres for other flammable liquids with a flashpoint of up to 55°C.
IBCs can have capacities of up to 1000 litres, which therefore will not make them suitable for flammable liquid storage for safety reasons.