Bonfires and smoke

Bonfires, burning waste and smoke nuisance

Barrow Borough Council discourages the burning of any waste. Each year we receive numerous complaints about bonfires and smoke. Bonfires are a significant source of air pollution and the poisonous compounds in smoke, such as carbon monoxide, can have a harmful effect on human health.

The Council can take legal action if the smoke, ash or smell from bonfires is causing a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

If a neighbour is creating smoke which you believe is causing a nuisance, speak to them about it first, as they may not realise they are causing a problem for neighbouring properties. Bonfires must happen frequently to be considered a nuisance and must be having a material impact on the use and enjoyment of your property.

It is illegal to burn trade waste, please see the information below.

To report a suspected offence or for more information please contact Public Protection at: environment@barrowbc.gov.uk or 01229 876543.

Anyone lighting a bonfire and allowing smoke to drift across a road could also be prosecuted under the Highways Act 1980. If there is a danger to road users, please contact the police.

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Burning domestic waste

It is a criminal offence under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, to get rid of household waste if it will cause pollution or harm people's health. This includes burning it if it is likely to create excessive smoke or harmful gases and fumes.

Never burn plastics, furniture, treated or painted wood, tyres, electrical items, oil, paint or other chemicals. Burning furniture is particularly dangerous, as some materials can release toxic chemicals, which can kill in a confined space, when burnt.

The offence applies to both outdoor bonfires and the burning of waste on a fire or in a stove inside the house.

If you intend to have a bonfire, you must only burn dry garden waste or untreated dry wood from your own property, providing that the smoke from any domestic bonfire will not cause a statutory nuisance.

If you decide a bonfire is the best practicable option for disposing of garden waste, follow these guidelines from Environmental Protection UK to avoid causing serious nuisance:

  • Only burn dry material
  • Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres or anything containing plastic, foam or paint
  • Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions – smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days. If it is too windy, smoke blows into neighbours’ gardens and windows and across roads
  • Avoid burning when air pollution levels in your area are high or very high. You can check air quality on 0800 556677 or see the UK air pollution forecast
  • Keep your fire away from trees, fences and buildings
  • Never use oil, petrol or methylated spirits to light a fire – you could damage yourself as well as the environment
  • Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder – put it out completely

Barbeques

Barbecues can also cause smoke and odour problems – especially if you use lighter fuel. Be considerate. Warn your neighbours in advance, and don’t light up if they have washing out.

Under Part 3 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, smoke or fumes from a barbecue may be classed as a statutory nuisance.

Chimneas

Chimneas are designed to not be particularly smoky. Only dry, seasoned, untreated wood or special chimnea/heat logs, made from recycled and compressed sawdust, may be burnt on a chimnea. Damp wood will give off smoke.

If your chiminea is exposed to the wind, there’s more chance of it smoking so site your chimnea so the hole is facing away from the wind. The design of the chimnea ensures it will produce little smoke if used properly. Never burn any waste on a chimnea.

Avoid burning cedar, chestnut, elder, Douglas fir, horse chestnut, sweet chestnut, poplar, acacia or spruce as these tend to produce more smoke. Do not burn laburnum wood as it is poisonous. Do not burn treated or painted wood. These may have poisons, such as arsenic on them, or metals such as lead.

Burning trade waste

It is illegal to burn waste from a commercial activity or to burn construction or demolition waste. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Clean Air Act 1993 create a number of criminal offences that would apply.

The only exemption is for plant material. This can be burnt under an exemption which must be registered with the Environment Agency. This only applies if the material is burned on the land on which it originated and does not cause a smoke nuisance.

Businesses have a legal duty to ensure their waste is disposed of lawfully and without causing any harm or pollution. HM Government publish advice on managing waste and a statutory code of practice you must follow.

If trade waste is being burnt, please contact:

  • Public Protection on 01229 876543 or email environment@barrowbc.gov.uk

Dark smoke

The darker the smoke, the more polluting it tends to be. The Ringelmann Chart is used to define dark smoke. The chart has 5 shades of grey with 0 being clear and 5 being black. Smoke is considered ‘dark’ if it is shade 2 or darker.

Under sections 1 and 2 of the Clean Air Act 1993, is an offence to:

  • emit dark smoke from a chimney of any building or a chimney serving a boiler or industrial plant (subject to some limited exemptions)
  • cause or permit the emission for dark smoke from any trade or industrial premises (e.g. from open fires)
  • cause or permit the emission of dark smoke on other premises on which matter is burnt in the open connection with any industrial or trade process (e.g. if you burn waste at home originating from your work)

The occupier of the premises (or in the case of a boiler or plant, its owner) is guilty of an offence. This is in addition to any other person who causes or permits the emission of dark smoke from an open fire on trade or industrial premises.

Unless proved otherwise, an emission of dark smoke is deemed to have taken place if materials that have been burnt on the premises are likely to give rise to dark smoke, for example, tyres, paint or plastics.

The offences carry an unlimited fine in the magistrates' court (or a fine of up to £1,000 if it involves the chimney of a dwelling).