Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, if a bonfire is a regular problem and interferes substantially with wellbeing, comfort or enjoyment of your property it is considered a statutory nuisance.

'One-off' fires that are very large, produce excessive amounts of smoke and left to burn for long periods of time may also be considered a statutory nuisance if they significantly impact neighbours.

Dark smoke from commercial bonfires

It is an offence to cause or permit the emission of dark smoke from industrial or trade premises under the Clean Air Act 1993.

Under section 2 of the Clean Air Act 1993 we can prosecute if an emission of dark smoke has taken place. An offence under this section of the Act can result in a fine of up to £20,000.

Dark smoke is regarded as being particularly serious because it usually indicates that the material being burnt is giving rise to toxic pollution. To prevent this occurring we would advise you do not burn materials such as tyres, oil, plastics, any treated woods (including window frames), painted materials or chipboard.

Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994

The burning of commercial waste may also be illegal under legislation including the Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994. 

This is enforced by the Environment Agency.

Waste produced during the course of normal business activity should be disposed of in an appropriate manner. Generally speaking, the Environment Agency prohibits the disposal of waste by bonfires on commercial sites.

If you believe a commercial premises is burning their waste, contact the Environment Agency's Pollution Incident line (24 hours) on 0800 807060.

Guidelines for domestic bonfires

If you have garden waste to dispose of, try and compost as much as possible. Consider using a shredding machine, which can reduce hardwood materials into mulch for use on your garden.

If you must light a bonfire, ensure that the material to be burnt is dry. This will minimise the amount of smoke produced.

  • do not light a fire when the weather conditions might cause the smoke to travel into your neighbours' gardens or property.
  • remember that smoke will hang in the air on a damp, windless day and in the evening around sunset.
  • position any bonfire as far away from buildings as possible. Do not light a fire if the wind will carry the smoke over roads.
  • never leave a fire to smoulder - put it out with water or soil.
  • remember, heaps of garden refuse provide a haven for small animals such as hedgehogs. Check before you light.
  • take care to keep children away from a bonfire. Supervise burning as much as possible.
  • burn only dry plant/wood waste. Avoid burning any wood that is treated/painted or any other household waste.

Guidelines for commercial bonfires

A commercial bonfire could be a bonfire on industrial premises, trade premises, demolition sites and land being used for commercial agriculture or horticulture purposes.

Commercial premises and builders should not use bonfires to dispose of any rubbish produced as a result of their operations. The only exception to this is the burning of diseased wood on site, which is permitted in certain cases.

Common complaints about commercial bonfires include the smoke and smell:

  • stopping residents from enjoying their gardens
  • stopping neighbours from opening windows or hanging washing out
  • reducing visibility in the neighbourhood.