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Burning waste (bonfires)

What is a bonfire?

A bonfire is a large, but controlled, outdoor fire, used either for informal disposal of burnable waste  material, or as part of a celebration.

The name "bonfire" is derived from the fact that bonfires were originally fires in which bones were burned.

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What waste can I get rid of using a bonfire?

You can burn:

  • dry garden waste
  • unpainted or untreated wood


Household waste should certainly not be burnt, it is an offence Read more about bonfires and the law, including when and where you can have a bonfire. 

Read about alternative ways of getting rid of your waste below.

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What’s the alternative to a bonfire?

Recycling

Before burning any waste in your garden, you should try to recycle any material that can go in your  blue (household waste)or  brown (garden/organic waste) bins. You can also read about  how to compost your waste. 


Waste that cannot be recycled at home can be taken to your  nearest household waste recycling site (tip)


Old furniture

Burning old furniture can cause particular hazards as some materials can release toxic fumes when burned.

Old furniture in reasonable condition can be donated to charity shops and other charitable organisations. 

Alternatively, you can take it to your  nearest household waste recycling site (tip), or for a fee you can ask the council to come and collect it for you.

Read more about how  bulky collection costs and booking details.

Composting

Rather than burning garden waste or putting food waste in the green wheelie bin where it will end up incinerated or going to landfill, a compost bin will produce useful soil conditioner, saving money on buying commercial products.  

Woody waste can be shredded to make it suitable for composting or mulching. You can hire or buy shredders. Some allotment societies may have their own. If using a shredder be considerate to neighbours, they can be noisy – please do not swap one potential nuisance for another.

Composting equipment is available from the council’s composting website:

Get composting (external council website)


Please note: Householders have a Duty of Care to ensure any waste taken from their properties is disposed of by a licensed waste carrier. You are responsible for your waste. If in doubt check with the Environment Agency by phone on 08708 505 506. 

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Should I inform the neighbours of my bonfire?

If you do have a bonfire to dispose of garden waste, or on Bonfire Night, please inform your neighbours. They are much less likely to complain.

Avoid lighting a bonfire in unsuitable weather conditions, smoke will hang in the air on damp, still days. If too windy, smoke might travel through your neighbours open windows, into their gardens and across roads.

Read about the effects of burning on air quality, and how to report air pollution.

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What safety safety advice should I follow when burning waste?

When building a bonfire for the purpose of burning waste or as a recreational or seasonal attraction (Bonfire Night), make sure that the health and safety of yourself, children, pets and neighbours are kept in mind during the building of the pile, burning of the pile and dampening of the embers.

Fires 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 for some animals so look out for hibernating wildlife and sleeping pets.

Under section 161A of the Highways Act 1980, anyone lighting a bonfire and allowing the smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic or causes injury. Contact the police on 999 if this is the case.

Safety instructions

If you feel you must have a fire follow these safety instructions:

  • Build the bonfire so that it is stable and will not collapse outwards or to one side
  • Site the bonfire well away from houses, garages, sheds, fences, overhead cables, trees and shrubs
  • Look out for hibernating wildlife and sleeping pets
  • Never use oil, petrol or methylated spirits to start your bonfire. This can be harmful to both you and the environment. 
  • Keep everyone away from the fire, especially children, who must be supervised all the time
  • Keep buckets of water or the garden hose or a fire extinguisher ready in case of an emergency 
  • Providing you follow sensible guidelines it can be a useful way of disposing of garden waste that cannot be composted
  • It is a good idea to inform your neighbours in advance if you are planning to have a bonfire to avoid complaints
  • You should always think carefully about the wind direction and time of day in order to avoid causing a nuisance to your neighbours
  • Do not leave a bonfire unattended or leave it to smoulder, especially at night
  • Make sure it is out before you leave it - put it out with water on the embers, or cover with soil before leaving

Dangerous smoke and fume

To avoid causing dangerous smoke and fumes only burn dry material and do not burn:

  • household rubbish
  • foam-filled furniture
  • painted or treated wood
  • items containing polystyrene
  • aerosols
  • tins of paint
  • tyres
  • plastics
  • items containing polystyrene


Read about the effects of burning on air quality, and  how to report air pollution.

Please note: The council has powers it can use against people causing a nuisance through regular burning or causing noxious smoke and fumes, and will investigate all incidents reported. Read more about bonfires and the law.

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Can I report a problem or nuisance caused by burning waste?

Yes you can.

Smoke, smuts, ash and smells from bonfires have long been a source of a significant number of 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.

Read about  how to report air pollution, including:

  • Smoke, odours, dust and gases
  • Dark grey/black smoke
  • Left-over rubbish and waste

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Can I burn waste from my workplace at home?

No. It is illegal to dispose of waste that is not from your property e.g. from your workplace or from a neighbour at home (under section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990).

Environmental Protection Act 1990 (external website)

For example, tradesmen must not burn waste from their place of work at home.

To dispose of business waste correctly, please visit the business waste collection page.

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