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Smoke nuisance

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Bonfires and barbeques can be very irritating to neighbours because of the smoke, smuts and smell produced. Smoke can prevent your neighbours from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging washing out, and reduce visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads.

Bonfire guidelines

A bonfire can be a useful way for disposing of garden waste that cannot be composted - or perhaps you want a bonfire just for fun. Bonfires have traditionally been used to mark events, currently the main bonfire tradition is bonfire night.

If you do have a bonfire to dispose of garden waste, or on bonfire night, warn your neighbours, they are much less likely to complain. Follow our good bonfire guidelines:

  • 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, contact the Environmental Health team to check air quality
  • 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.

Bonfire and the law

When and where can I have a bonfire?
There is no byelaws prohibiting garden bonfires or specifying times they can be lit.

Occasionally a bonfire is the best practicable way to dispose of woody or diseased waste that cannot be composted as well as to mark traditional celebrations like bonfire night.

To be dealt with as a statutory nuisance a fire would have to be a recurrent persistent problem, interfering substantially with neighbours' well-being, comfort or enjoyment of their property.

Black smoke
If a bonfire of industrial or commercial waste is emitting black smoke it is dealt with under the Clean Air Act 1993. This includes the burning of such material in your garden. Under section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 it is illegal to dispose of waste that is not from your property. For example, small tradesmen must not burn waste from site at home.

Barbeques can also cause smoke and odour problems, especially if you use lighter fuel. Again, be considerate. Warn your neighbours, and don't light up if they have washing out. If it is windy make sure smoke won't blow directly into neighbouring properties - and keep the noise down.

What's wrong with bonfires?

Air pollution
Burning garden waste produces smoke - especially if that waste is green or damp. This will emit harmful pollutants including particles and dioxins. Burning plastic, rubber or painted materials creates noxious fumes that give off a range of poisonous compounds.

Health effects
Air pollution can have damaging health effects, and people with existing health problems are especially vulnerable, for example asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers, people with heart conditions, children and the elderly.

Smoke, smuts and smell from bonfires are the subject of about 30,000 complaints to local authorities every year. Smoke prevents neighbours from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging washing out, and reduces visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads. Allotments near homes can cause problems if plot holders persistently burn green waste, and leave fires smouldering.

Fire can spread to fences or buildings and scorch trees and plants. Exploding bottles and cans are a hazard when rubbish is burned. Piles of garden waste are often used as a refuge by animals, so look out for hibernating wildlife and sleeping pets.

What are the alternatives to having a bonfire?

Rather than burning garden waste or putting food waste in the dustbin where it will end up buried or incinerated, a compost bin will produce useful soil conditioner, saving money on commercial products. Some local authorities collect this waste.

Woody waste can be shredded to make it suitable for composting or mulching. You can buy or hire shredders, and some allotment societies have their own. If using a shredder be considerate - they are very noisy so don't swap one nuisance for another!

View more information on composting.

Household waste should certainly not be burnt. Many items can be reused or recycled.

Last updated: 04/10/2023 10:34

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