Burning your garden rubbish is a quick and easy way to get rid of it. But all too often, it’s the source of disputes over the garden fence. If your neighbours are trying to enjoy their garden or dry their laundry, they won’t love your smelly smoke.
So if you’ve ever wondered, “What time can I burn rubbish in my garden?”, you’ve come to the right place! Keep things cordial by knowing the rules that govern what you can and can’t do in the UK.
When can you have a bonfire in Garden?
There aren’t any rules about the right time to have a bonfire in your garden. But there are other rules that mean it’s important to take care – or you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law.
The rules in question relate to three different issues: environmental pollution, road safety and statutory nuisance. They’re designed to avoid your bonfire having unwanted consequences for the environment and the people near you.
That means it isn’t as simple as saying you can have your bonfire between say, nine and ten in the evening. Instead, you’ll need to consider the different ways burning your rubbish could affect other people.
1. Environmental pollution
The first thing to know is that you can’t just stick any old thing on your bonfire. That’s because burning large quantities of waste, and particular kinds of waste, can be hazardous.
Plastics, for example, can release poisonous gases. And burning pretty much anything will cause some degree of air pollution.
Air pollution is a big deal in the UK, causing between 28,000 and 36,000 early deaths every year. And while the majority of it comes from traffic, we need to do whatever we can to cut those numbers.
Burning household waste can have other negative consequences too. If you put an aerosol on a bonfire, for example, it will explode. So don’t be tempted to burn anything other than garden waste.
If you need to get rid of other waste, put it in your wheelie bin or take it to your local tip. And make sure you separate out recyclable materials and dispose of them in line with your council’s recycling policy.
2. Road safety
Because smoke can interfere with drivers’ visibility, there are other rules to consider depending on where you live. If the smoke from your bonfire drifts over a road it could cause a serious hazard to road users. And if that happens, you could be looking at a fine from the police.
Remember that the more waste you’re burning, the more smoke it’s likely to generate. Damp garden waste will usually give off more smoke than dry waste too. A quick hot fire will be far less smoky than a longer cooler one.
And think about the weather conditions too. On a windy day, the smoke from your bonfire can travel much further than it otherwise would. If you’re in any doubt about whether smoke could reach a nearby road, don’t light the fire.
3. Statutory nuisance
The final category that could land you in trouble with the law is what’s known as “statutory nuisance”. This is a broad definition that covers lots of different things. An activity falls within the definition if it is, or is likely to be, a nuisance and/or a threat to health.
Smoke, fumes or gases from a bonfire have the potential to be a statutory nuisance. It will usually relate to repeated incidents from the same property, rather than a one-off problem.
If your neighbours are repeatedly having to bring in their washing or flee their garden because of your bonfire, you could be causing a statutory nuisance. Any complaint will be investigated by your local council’s environmental health or environmental protection team.
They will take into account all the circumstances of the complaint. That will include the length of time the problem has been occurring for, and how long it lasts each time. They may ask your neighbours to keep a diary of what’s happening. And they may come and visit to see what’s going on.
If the council officers judge that your bonfires are causing a statutory nuisance, they will usually write to you first. That will explain the nuisance being caused and will direct you to stop. If there are further complaints, you could be prosecuted and face a fine of up to £5,000.
Bonfire Rules – What about specific circumstances?
A statutory nuisance is something that an “ordinary” person would find unreasonable. That means that if your neighbours are upset because they work shifts and want to enjoy their garden in the middle of the night, they’re unlikely to have a case.
But if the council don’t want to bring a case, your neighbours can do so themselves. They can prosecute you at a magistrate’s court under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Win or lose, if you’ve got to the stage of being involved in a court case, things have got pretty bad. Avoiding a fine is one thing – staying on good terms with your neighbours is quite another. And it’s just as important to making sure you can enjoy your home and garden in peace.
So by far the best approach is to avoid getting into a conflict in the first place.
If you’re going to have a bonfire and you have neighbours close by, let them know your plans. They can avoid putting on a load of laundry. And if they’re already planning to have people over for a garden party, they can ask you to postpone.
If talking to your neighbours in advance isn’t an option for any reason, consider your timing. A bonfire early in the morning or late in the evening is less likely to interfere with other garden activities.
Thinking though the impact on other people may require a bit more effort in the first place. But it will be time well spent to avoid emotionally draining – and potentially costly – battles.
Tips to have a bonfire in Garden
Having the occasional bonfire shouldn’t be a problem if you do it with care.
- Telling your neighbours in advance is a sensible first step. But there are also other things you can do to minimise any disruption.
- Check the weather conditions before you light your fire. Try to avoid burning waste when the smoke will blow into your neighbours’ gardens. And make sure smoke won’t be blown onto a road, where it could worsen driving conditions. A light breeze, though, can be helpful. It will help the smoke dissipate more quickly.
- Ensure that whatever you’re burning is dry to reduce the amount of smoke that’s generated in the first place. And avoid having a bonfire on a damp day for the same reason.
- Don’t burn anything except garden waste. And make sure you don’t put any plastics, painted materials, rubber, chipboard or plywood on the bonfire. All of those can give off poisonous fumes.
- And never go anywhere near a bonfire with an aerosol or batteries. The high temperatures will cause the chemicals to explode.
- Build your bonfire away from buildings and fences. And make sure that there are no cables overhead. And before you set fire to anything, make sure that no wildlife – or even pets or children – have crawled inside.
- Keep a bucket of water or hosepipe handy, so you can put the fire out quickly if you need to.
- Last but not least, keep an eye on your bonfire at all times. The British weather can change at any moment! A sudden change in wind speed or direction can cause unexpected problems. Make sure you’re on hand to take action if it’s needed.
- And when your fire has burned itself out, it’s a good idea to pour water on the embers. That will ensure there’s no danger of it reigniting.
What about Bonfire Night?
If you’re going to celebrate the 5th of November at home, a bonfire may be part of your plans. If so, the same considerations apply as at the rest of the year. Follow the guidelines above, and you’ll be able to enjoy your bonfire safely.
If you’re going to be having fireworks, it’s particularly important to let your neighbours know in advance. Pets can be panicked or distressed by the bangs and flashes. Responsible pet owners will want to keep them inside.
So to sum up…
An occasional bonfire can be an efficient way to get rid of garden waste. Minimise how often you need to have one by putting what you can into a composter. And take a few simple steps to stay safe and keep the peace with your neighbours.
There aren’t hard and fast rules abut when you can burn rubbish in your garden in the UK. But if you’re not careful, you can find yourself facing fines for air pollution, disrupting traffic, or causing a nuisance.
Avoid getting into sticky situations by telling your neighbours about your plans in advance. Be ready to change the time of your bonfire if it will cause them problems. And make sure you’re burning the right things in the right conditions.
Do all this, and you’ll avoid getting into hot water with your bonfire!