Monmouthshire County Council guidance on bonfires - how to avoid causing a nuisance
Bonfires may sometimes be used to dispose of rubbish but they can be a cause of pollution and local nuisance and as such is not the most environmentally friendly way of getting rid of rubbish.
Bonfires can be very irritating to neighbours if the smoke stops them enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging out washing etc. Household waste should certainly not be burnt on a bonfire as most materials can be recycled through your council’s recycled waste collection schemes.
Burning garden waste can produce a dense smoke, especially when the material being burnt is damp and smoulders. Smoke from garden bonfires will contain toxic chemicals including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and particulate matter. Burning plastic and painted wood will release these and other toxic compounds into the air.
Local weather conditions will affect the impact of the smoke and its affect on your neighbours. Still conditions will prevent the smoke from dispersing while windy conditions will blow smoke into neighbouring properties and across roads causing annoyance and possibly danger.
Bonfires can be a fire hazard; fire can spread to fences or buildings and scorch trees and plants. Sealed cans or bottles in a fire may explode.
What's the legal position?
There are no UK statutes that specifically prohibit bonfires, occasionally some districts have local byelaws that prohibit bonfires, and you will find out whether this is the case by contacting your local Environmental Health Department. However, if the smoke from the bonfire amounts to a statutory nuisance, the Local Authority can serve an Abatement Notice under section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to cease the nuisance or prohibit its recurrence. Failure to comply with an Abatement Notice is an offence which can result in fines of up to £5,000 upon summary conviction in a Magistrate’s Court with a further daily fine of up to £500 for each day the offence continues.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990
Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 states that a statutory nuisance includes 'smoke, fumes or gasses emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance'. In practice, to be considered a nuisance, a bonfire would have to be a problem that interferes materially with your well-being, comfort or enjoyment of your property. If you believe this is the case you should speak to your local Environmental Health Department.
Bonfire smoke will cause problems for asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers, those with heart conditions and young children.
Alternative disposal methods
Because bonfires are not the best disposal method for rubbish you should consider the following alternatives:
Composting and recycling
Most garden and vegetable kitchen waste can be composted. Compost will produce a useful soil conditioner. Do not compost meat or other products of animal origin. Woody garden waste can be shredded before composting but please ensure if you are shredding that you do not cause a noise nuisance to your neighbours. Advice on composting is available from the following organisations:
Royal Horticultural Society www.rhs.org.uk (the RHS is the leading garden organisation in the UK).
Garden Organic www.gardenorganic.org.uk (Garden Organic is the working title of the Henry Doubleday Research Association).
Association for Organics Recycling (AFOR) is the trade body governing the commercial composting of organic waste and distributes industry best practice guidance. They can be contacted at www.organics-recycling.org.uk
Disposing of garden waste
Garden waste should not normally be mixed with other household waste. Garden waste may be able to be taken to a civic amenity site or collected by your local council, although there may be a charge.
Furniture should not be burned and it should be taken to a civic amenity site or contact your local council to arrange collection. This also applies to household appliances (fridges, cookers and washing machines), if collection for re-use is not available in your locality.
If you are planning a bonfire
If you are planning a bonfire you should follow the guidelines below, inform your neighbours and do not light it if conditions are unfavourable. For example, if smoke is likely to blow onto your neighbours home or garden.
If you follow these guidelines, the chances are you won't cause a serious nuisance.
- Burn dry material only
- Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres, or anything containing plastic, foam or paint
- Never use old engine oil, methylated spirits or petrol to light a fire or to keep it going
- Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions - smoke lingers on still days and if it is windy, smoke may be blown into neighbouring properties or across roads
- Avoid burning at weekends and on bank holidays when people want to enjoy their homes and gardens
- Avoid burning when the air quality in your area is 'poor' or 'very poor'. (You can check this by phoning 0800 556677, or looking at Ceefax or Teletext or by checking at www.defra.gov.uk)
- Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder - douse it with water if necessary.
If you have a bonfire problem
If you are affected by a problem of bonfire smoke you may consider one of the following options:
- It is best to approach your neighbour first and explain the problem. You might find this awkward, but they may not be aware of the problem and it may make them more considerate when planning and lighting a bonfire.
- If you cannot talk to your neighbour without assistance you could approach a local mediation service (find out if such a facility exists locally by speaking to your local Environmental Health Department) or try the National Mediation Helpline (www.nationalmediationhelpline.com) for general advice on resolving disputes.
- If this approach fails, contact the Environmental Protection team in your local Environmental Health department. The Council is legally obliged to investigate all complaints of nuisance in their area, which includes bonfire smoke. The Council must take action under the Environmental Protection Act by issuing an abatement notice.
- Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows you to take private action through the magistrate’s court but you should seek legal advice before doing so. Also your local Environmental Protection Team should be able to advise you about private remedies for resolving your complaint to help you decide the best way forward.
- Under the Highways Act 1980 anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic. If this is the case you should contact the police.
Monmouthshire County Council, County Hall, The Rhadyr, Usk, NP15 1GA
Tel. 01292 635709
Tel. 01292 635709