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Environment Agency issues bonfire pollution warning

Burning the wrong waste could lead to prosecution

Image by Eric Dufresne released via Creative Commons BY 2.0
Image by Eric Dufresne released via Creative Commons BY 2.0

Those planning bonfires on or around Guy Fawkes night, or at any other time of the year, are urged to check where the material has come from and whether it’s suitable.

The Environment Agency says “uncontrolled and excessive burning of the wrong wastes can cause pollution and harm human health”.

The agency warns that those doing so could be prosecuted if they haven’t applied for “an environmental permit for a waste operation”.

Environment Agency bonfire warning sign

The agency has published guidance in RPS 50 (regulatory position statement), which is for those who want to burn waste for “traditional cultural events such as Guy Fawkes bonfires and campfires at scout and guide centres”.

RPS 50 states that “If you comply with the conditions in this RPS you do not need to apply for an environmental permit.”

You must:
  • only burn waste for a traditional cultural event
  • keep the waste secure before you burn it
  • only burn material that is suitable for burning, for example wood that has not been painted or coated with preservatives, branches, leaves, card and paper – you must not burn plastic, rubber, glass or metal
  • ensure the size of the bonfire or campfire is appropriate for the event
  • ensure you do not involve waste operators
You must make sure the waste (before, during and after burning) does not endanger human health or the environment.

You must not:
  • cause a risk to water, air, soil, plants or animals
  • cause a nuisance through noise or odours
  • adversely affect the countryside or places of special interest
RPS 50 will be reviewed by 31 January 2020. Those planning bonfires after that date are advised to check the agency’s site to see if there has been any change to the rules and whether a permit is needed.

The Environment Agency says that if anyone suspects illegal activity they should report it anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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