Air pollution from domestic burning

Fireplaces and stoves

Domestic wood-burning stoves and fireplaces have become more popular in recent years. But many people aren’t aware of the harmful impact they have on our health through poor indoor and outdoor air quality. Rules may also apply to their use – including smoke control areas – depending on where you live. Find out if you live in a smoke control area at the bottom of this page.

Stove and fire smoke contains tiny particles known as PM2.5. This pollutant has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the most harmful to human health.

PM2.5 can cause breathing difficulties, such as asthma attacks, and contributes to other health conditions including heart disease and stroke. People already suffering from lung and heart problems, along with older people, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and very young children, are more likely to be affected.

According to the Government’s 2019 Clean Air Strategy, domestic solid fuel, which includes burning wood and coal, is responsible for 38% of PM2.5 pollution in the UK, the largest source. The other main sources of PM2.5 air pollution are industrial combustion (16%), industrial solvents and processes (13%), and road transport (12%).

For more information on the types, sources and health effects of poor air quality, visit the Air pollution and you page.

What you can do

Many factors affect emissions from burning wood or coal, including the type of fireplace or stove, the fuel used, and appliance and chimney maintenance. For simple tips to reduce the environmental and health impacts of stoves and fireplaces, and how to save money, read the Defra open fires and woodburning stoves guide and see the Woodsure Ready to Burn Scheme and Chimney Sweeps Burn Right Campaign.

Do you live in a smoke control area?

Smoke control areas, sometimes called smokeless zones, are areas set by local councils where you can’t emit smoke from a chimney unless you’re burning an authorised fuel or using an exempt appliance. People who break the rules can face a fine of up to £1,000.

You can find out if you live in a smoke control area by visiting the relevant Greater Manchester local authority website at the bottom of this webpage. Some of these council webpages contain the information and others have contact details to find out.

UK government action

The Government is also taking action to reduce pollution from domestic stoves and fireplaces. The sale of bagged traditional house coal and small bags of wet wood is being phased out from February 2021, with only manufactured solid fuels with a low sulphur content to be sold for domestic use. This will come into law on 1 May 2021 through The Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020, and further guidance is available on Woodsure’s website.

These fuels not only produce less smoke and pollution than wet wood or coals, but are cheaper and more efficient to burn, meaning that householders will not see their fuel costs rise. Further details of the government’s actions are available from this Defra webpage.

Garden and allotment bonfires

You should avoid having a bonfire to burn waste, even if it’s garden or allotment waste. Bonfires contribute to local air pollution and can cause a nuisance to neighbours. Items such as painted wood, plastics and rubber should never be burnt as these can release toxic pollutants. It’s also an offence to burn any waste from building works, and tradespeople should dispose of waste legally and responsibly.

You should dispose of household or garden waste in your council bin or take it to your local recycling centre. Your local council can collect bulky items. Garden or allotment waste should ideally be composted on site.

Most neighbours will be considerate if you explain that a bonfire is causing a problem. But where bonfires continue to cause a nuisance, your local council can take enforcement action. You can contact your local Greater Manchester council using the weblinks below.

PM2.5 pollution in Greater Manchester

Public Health England and The University of Manchester have prepared a joint report on the health impacts and sources of PM2.5 pollution in Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester local council smoke and pollution webpages