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Polluting Fuels for Wood Burners and Open Fires to be Banned


The sale of house coal and wet wood will be phased out in England from next year, in an effort to improve air quality.

The government is urging owners of wood burners, stoves and open fires to ditch polluting fuels for “cleaner alternatives” such as dry or seasoned wood and manufactured solid fuels.

The ban is being introduced to tackle PM2.5, fine particle pollutants which penetrate deep into lungs and the bloodstream, causing serious health problems including asthma, heart disease and cancer. The British Heart Foundation has forecast that air pollution, including PM2.5 particles, will kill 160,000 Britons a year by 2030.

Wood-burning stoves and coal fires are the biggest single source of PM2.5, emitting three times as much as road transport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

Sales of bagged traditional house coal will be phased out from February 2021, and the sale of loose house coal directly to customers will end by 2023. Sales of wet wood in small units will be restricted from next February, to use up existing stocks. Wet wood in cubes larger than 2 metres will be sold with advice on how to dry it before burning from that date.

Manufacturers of other solid fuels will need to demonstrate they have a very low sulphur count and emit only a small amount of smoke.

Similar proposals to restrict the sale of polluting fuels are being considered in Scotland and Wales.

Wood-burning stoves and open fires have seen a resurgence in popularity in both rural and urban areas in recent years, embraced by consumers looking to reduce their energy bills and carbon footprint and create cosy living spaces. Today around 1.5 million homes across the UK use wood for fuel. 

However, while wood-burning stoves are carbon neutral their impact on air quality and health is substantial. A wood-burning stove emits more polluting particles per hour than a diesel truck.

Newly appointed environment secretary George Eustice said: “Cosy open fires and wood-burning stoves are at the heart of many homes up and down the country, but the use of certain fuels means that they are also the biggest source of the most harmful pollutant that is affecting people in the UK.

“By moving towards the use of cleaner fuels such as dry wood we can all play a part in improving the health of millions of people. This is the latest step in delivering on the challenge we set ourselves in our world-leading clean air strategy.”

Medical experts welcomed the ban on the most polluting fuels.

Professor Stephen Holgate, the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on air quality, said: “We know that air pollution causes significant health issues across the life course. It is key that the government does everything it can to improve the air we all breathe. Today’s announcement on domestic burning is a welcome step forward, and will in time, play a role in reducing the pollution associated with PM2.5.”

“Inhaling combustion particles from any source is harmful, but more so than ever when it’s directly within your home. Burning coal for heat and power has to stop and strong guidance is needed to insist that if wood is burnt in approved stoves, it is non-contaminated and dry.”

Others have cautioned that poor rural households will see a rise in heating costs and lose income they earn from selling bundled wet wood.

The Coal Merchants Federation of Great Britain has cautioned that households which rely on house coal, many of them on low incomes, will see a 30% to 50% increase in their annual fuel costs.

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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