The burning of garden waste can be both unpleasant and a risk to health; bonfires are illegal if they cause a nuisance to others.
Nuisance from smoke emanating from premises is an offence under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. If the Public Health Team is to take action against offenders we must be satisfied of a nuisance in law. For example, the bonfire must significantly interfere with the enjoyment of your garden or house. This may occur if you regularly need to close doors and windows or are regularly prevented from spending time in the garden.
Harmful to health
Smoke can contain carbon monoxide as well as other noxious, irritating and carcinogenic compounds.
Burning of trade waste
If you burn waste generated through commercial, trade or industrial activities, or if you burn waste of any type on industrial or trade premises, then you may be committing an offence
Burning is not an acceptable way of disposing of commercial waste. Burning waste produces smoke that contains a range of pollutants which can pollute the environment and have damaging health effects. It also increases background levels of air pollution. Laws exist to protect people and the environment. This means that burning activity of any sort can result in criminal prosecution and substantial fines. Operators of commercial, industrial and trade businesses and premises should be aware of the following:
- The Environmental Protection Act 1990 places a duty of care on every business to make sure that all waste produced is disposed of in a suitable manner. Burning of waste is not considered as appropriate and anyone found disposing of waste in breach of their duty of care responsibilities risks being prosecuted and fined on conviction (refer to section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990)
- The Clean Air Act 1993 makes it an offence to burn anything on an industrial or trade premises that gives rise to dark smoke. This would include plastic, insulating materials (e.g. foam), tyres and treated/painted wood. Offences made under this legislation incur a maximum penalty of £20,000 for each offence (see overleaf).
- Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 smoke from any type of fire can be judged to be causing a statutory nuisance to neighbouring properties where the smoke is affecting their enjoyment of their property – e.g. if they cannot sit in their garden, put washing out or must keep windows closed. A legal notice can be served requiring that the smoke nuisance is abated and failure to comply with the requirements of the notice can result in prosecution.
- Smoke emissions from flues, stacks or chimneys are controlled by legislation including the Clean Air Act 1993 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
- Anyone lighting a fire and allowing it to drift across a highway faces a fine of up to £2,000 under the Highways (Amendment) Act 1986.
- There are no set times in law which specify when burning may or may not take place
- A person who burns casing and/or insulation from a cable with a view to recovering the metal core(s) shall be guilty of an offence under the Clean Air Act 1993. Maximum penalties of £20,000 apply.
If you are suffering a problem with smoke nuisance you should first consider approaching your neighbour and politely tell him how the bonfire/waste burning is affecting you.
If the problem continues then you can report the matter to the Public Health Team.
Anonymous complaints will not normally be dealt with.
To find out alternative ways of disposing of your waste visit the bins and recycling area of the website.
Advice when having a bonfire
Further advice regarding bonfires can be found in the Environmental Protection UK leaflet Garden Bonfires .
Last Modified: 05/12/2018
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