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Responsible Bonfires

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 22 Apr 2012 | comments*Discuss
Bonfires Fire Air Pollution Burning

Having a bonfire may seem an innocent enough thing to do and conjures up romantic images of boy scouts, beach barbecues, and Bonfire Night.

But bonfires can also be a potential hazard to your health and to the environment. Read our advice on how to have a responsible bonfire without going up in smoke.

What’s Wrong With Bonfires?

If bonfires are kept small, very occasional, and burning only dry garden waste in the right conditions, there is nothing too wrong with having a bonfire. Indeed, where would be without the experience of toasting marshmallows round an open fire?! Nevertheless, on a much more serious side, heat and combustion can also produce toxins that can provoke pulmonary and coronary conditions.

Air Pollution

Burning waste material, particularly if it is damp or green, can emit harmful pollutants into the air. Tiny suspended particles, called ‘particulates’ are produced which can irritate the airways, get into the lungs, triggering asthma attacks.

If any chemicals or man-made substances are burnt, these can make the air toxic and produce nasty chemical reactions which result in noxious and poisonous fumes. A common mistake for instance, is to burn old furniture which may have been treated with varnish, paint or other chemicals which can react under heat to produce toxic fumes.

Heath Effects

The health effects of bonfire smoke and air pollution and well documented. Those vulnerable to lung conditions such as bronchitis and asthma are particularly at risk as are those less able to combat the effects, such as the very young and the elderly.


Smoke from bonfires is one of the things most complained about to local councils as being a nuisance to people. The ash falls on windowsills and in neighbouring gardens, windows and washing can’t be left open and enjoyment of time spent in the garden can be spoilt. For these reasons, it is important to be considerate of those living in close proximity to your property.

Alternatives To Bonfires

If you have garden waste to get rid of, before having a bonfire, consider alternative ways deal with it.

Composting is the easiest and most practical solution and will also produce useful organic matter for re-using on the garden. If you don’t have much space or need to get rid of large quantities of material, contact your local council. Many offer a chipping service or will collect green waste for municipal recycling and composting schemes. Your local tip will also have a section where you can deposit garden waste.

Being Responsible

If you do wish to have a bonfire, by following a few simple guidelines, you can ensure you act in a responsible way and don’t cause a nuisance to your neighbours.

  • Do not have regular bonfires
  • Before you have a bonfire, notify your neighbours
  • Make certain your waste is burnable (no man-made materials in the pile), dead and dry
  • Check for any wildlife, such as hedgehogs, which could be nesting under the heap before you light it!
  • Choose a day and time when neighbours are not likely to be in their gardens
  • Keep the bonfire safe and contained
  • Do not leave fires unattended or smouldering and extinguish properly

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