Bonfires and burning

There are no laws against having a bonfire, but there are laws against the nuisance they cause.

Burning materials can be very harmful to the environment and peoples’ health. That’s why we discourage residents and businesses from burning in our borough.

Bonfires, domestic fires, stoves, wood burners and even barbecues harm our health and environment.

In fact, burning wood can cause more harmful air pollution than vehicle emissions. A single log-burning stove emits more PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter – see below) than 1,000 petrol cars!

A recent study showed nearly a third of PM2.5 emissions comes from domestic wood burning in London.

In H&F, we’re already working hard to try and reduce the harm from vehicle emissions, so it makes sense to also reduce pollutants from burning.

Burning in H&F

The whole of Hammersmith & Fulham is an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and a smoke control area (find out more here).

Not all the harmful by-products produced by burning are visible, which makes them harder to avoid and hard to know if you’re being affected.

What does the council plan to do?

We’re currently reviewing where and how often people have bonfires or regularly burn materials in our borough, with a long-term aim of banning all unnecessary burning by 2023.

Before that, we’ll look at what else we can do, including exploring the possibility of a bylaw banning bonfires in the borough. This would include fires on commercial sites, allotments and in private gardens.

We’ve already been working closely with our local allotment groups who understand what we’re trying to achieve and have agreed to limit burning on their plots to Guy Fawkes Celebrations.

We’ll also explore how we can expand this to building sites and other locations.

Current government guidelines on bonfires can be found here.

The harm from burning

The effects of burning are global, as well as local. Burning materials produces airborne toxins which can damage health. Carbon dioxide is also produced which can harm the delicate balance of elements in our atmosphere, affecting climate change.

Smoke and pollutants from fires can also be a nuisance to your neighbours and adversely affect those with respiratory conditions.

The ash from burning green waste will contain significant residues of dioxins, metals and other substances. Such ash is very fine and may become suspended in the air by the wind.

Wood burners have also contributed to the most serious smog episodes we’ve recently seen in London during the past winters.

There is a wide variety in the particulates produced by burning, which depend on the type of material and how it is burned. For example, wetter materials produce more emissions, in particular, smoke. And the more dense a pile of leaves is when burned, the more hydrocarbon and particulate emissions are produced.

What is particulate matter (PM)?

Particulate matter is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that get into the air. If inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects.

Particulate matter is classified according to size and this classification is used in concentration measurements. ‘PM10’ is the concentration of particles that are less than or equal to 10 micrometres in diameter. Similarly, ‘PM2.5’ describes the concentration of particles that are less than or equal to 2.5 micrometres in diameter.

PM2.5 is a more serious health concern than PM10, since smaller particles can travel more deeply into our lungs and cause more harmful effects.

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