Consultation on cleaner domestic burning of solid fuels and wood

Closed 12 Oct 2018

Opened 17 Aug 2018

Overview

The Clean Air Strategy states that air pollution is the top environmental risk to human health in the UK. We often think of air pollution as being caused by transport or industrial level burning of fossil fuels. Now that the emissions from these sources has decreased, the relative importance of emissions from other sources has increased. The Strategy is clear that we now need to tackle these other sources of air pollution, including emissions caused by heating our homes.

We have already secured a significant reduction in emissions since the 1970s, but now this trajectory has slowed. In the Strategy, the government sets out its aim to reduce particulate matter emissions by 30% by 2020, and by 46% by 2030. Approximately 38% of UK primary particulate matter emissions come from burning wood and coal in domestic open fires and solid fuel stoves. This compares with industrial combustion (16%) and road transport (12%). The tiny particles in smoke can enter the bloodstream and enter internal organs, risking long term health issues as well as having more immediate impacts on some people, such as exacerbating breathing problems or triggering asthma attacks.

Burning domestic solid fuels leads to emissions of PM2.5. The main solid fuels burned in the home are:

  • Traditional house coal (or bituminous coal) – a naturally occurring mined product.  PM2.5 emissions are higher than from smokeless fuels.
  • Smokeless coal (or anthracite) – a form of naturally occurring, mined, high-purity coal, authorised for use in smoke control areas.
  • Manufactured solid fuels – fuels manufactured from coal products with other ingredients that have low smoke emissions.  However, some do have high SO2 emissions.
  • Wet wood – a naturally occurring product.  Newly felled wood has a high moisture content and creates a lot of smoke when burned.  It has over double the emissions of seasoned or kiln dried wood.
  • Seasoned wood – wood that has been left for at least 2 years to naturally air dry.
  • Kiln dried wood – wood that has been kiln dried to below 20% moisture.

While domestic burning and other emissions have reduced significantly since the 1950s, the evidence on the adverse health impacts from air pollution has also grown during that time, showing that even at today’s lower levels significant harm can be caused. Since 2005, we have seen an increase in the emissions from the domestic sector. We believe this is largely due to an increase in the popularity of open fires and wood-burning stoves. 

A recent report by King’s College London measuring local concentrations, found that wood burning accounts for up to 31% of the urban derived PM2.5 in London.

Using cleaner fuels in a cleaner appliance installed by a competent person, knowing how to operate it efficiently, and ensuring that chimneys are regularly swept by a professional or registered chimney sweep all make a big difference.  Defra has developed simple guidance for all local authorities to share with residents on these simple steps and is working with industry to encourage householders to take action in all these areas.

Relative domestic PM emissions

This consultation gives more detail about the proposals set out in the Strategy, focusing on the domestic use of solid fuel in England. As well as the overall impact of domestic burning on air quality for everyone, we are concerned about the health impact this can have on individuals who use solid fuel and their families. This consultation considers what further steps can be taken to encourage households to make a change from dirtier to cleaner fuels.  This is in line with the Clean Growth Strategy, which sets out our commitment to phasing out high carbon fossil fuels in the future, starting with homes off the gas grid. We are therefore considering a range of options focusing on phasing out the sale of the most polluting fuels enabling consumers to switch to less polluting alternatives:

•    Consumers who burn traditional house coal switching to alternative fuels (e.g. low sulphur manufactured solid fuels);

•   Consumers switching from wet wood to dry wood (with a moisture content of 20% or less);

•    Introduction of sulphur limits and smoke emission limits for all manufactured solid fuels.

We are not considering banning domestic burning.  The government recognises that households have installed wood-burning stoves and the government is not seeking to prevent their use or installation.  But we are keen to encourage consumers to switch to cleaner burning.  This will directly benefit consumers in their homes, as well as improving the local environment.   For example, when wet wood is burned, the heat output is significantly reduced and chemicals from the partially combusted wood build up on the inside of the stove and chimney, which increases the risk of chimney fires.  High sulphur solid fuels burn at very high temperatures and can damage appliances and chimneys.

Existing Legislation

There is an existing legislative framework, which was first established by the Clean Air Act 1956 to reduce air pollution from domestic burning, particularly through the creation of Smoke Control Areas (SCAs). SCAs are specific areas, designated by local councils, where it is illegal to allow smoke emissions from the chimneys of buildings. In these areas householders can only burn authorised fuels or use an appliance (e.g. a stove) which has been exempted for use in the area. Local authorities have advised that awareness of, and compliance with, SCA orders is low and that few people make the link between domestic burning and air pollution. Some local authorities are working to raise awareness of SCAs and to re-assess their boundaries. However, they have told us that enforcement can be difficult

The measures proposed in this consultation on fuels would not replace SCAs. Instead, they would sit alongside them and provide a basis for nationwide legislation in England to ensure that only the cleanest fuels would be available for sale. We will also be considering separately what changes should be made to SCAs and what additional powers should be given to local authorities to allow for more targeted action in areas of high pollution.  Any changes to SCAs or additional powers will be the subject of a separate consultation.

 

Call for Evidence

In January, we issued a Call for Evidence on domestic burning of house coal, smokeless coal, manufactured solid fuel and wet wood, including background evidence.

The purpose of the Call for Evidence was to gather more information and data on the use of fuels for domestic heating, as we seek to help householders make cleaner choices when using these fuels to heat their homes efficiently and reduce air pollution.     

We asked for evidence about the number of households using each fuel to heat their home, which fuels they would switch to if they were unable to purchase these materials and whether there would be a disproportionate impact on certain individuals.  We asked businesses about the impact of proposals to reduce the use of more polluting fuels would have on them, the time they would need to adjust, and for their views on specific points such as the appropriate level of sulphur in manufactured solid fuels.

We received evidence and views from a wide range of respondents, some of whom called for a total ban on domestic burning, primarily due to personal experience of nuisance or health impacts. Others felt that there should be no restrictions at all or were concerned about the impact on those in fuel poverty.

Some suggested that more should be done to help inform consumers; as many are unaware of the impacts of burning waste or cheaper fuels and some suppliers market wood as seasoned, or dried, when it is not. Many chimney sweeps highlighted that how a stove is used can have a significant impact on emissions.

Most wood fuel businesses who responded indicated that they would be able to adjust to any proposed regulations on fuel standards, however most coal businesses felt less able to adjust and were concerned about the impact. 

Clean Air Strategy consultation

We have considered the responses to the Call for Evidence, and these have informed the action we propose to take on domestic burning as set out in the Clean Air Strategy consultation: 

  • We will legislate to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuels.
  • We will ensure only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022.
  • We will update outmoded legislation on ‘dark smoke’ from chimneys and underused provisions on Smoke Control Areas to bring these into the 21st century with more flexible, proportionate enforcement powers for local government.
  • Government will work with industry to identify an appropriate test standard for new solid fuels entering the market.
  • We will ensure that consumers understand what they can do to reduce their impact from emissions from domestic burning

We have asked for views on this broad set of proposals in response to the Clean Air Strategy.

Why We Are Consulting

Consultation on phasing out the most polluting fuels

As part of the process of changing the law, or introducing new regulations, the government is committed to consulting those likely to be affected by the change. This approach ensures that we take into account their views and the impacts the policy change will have. This more detailed consultation builds upon the earlier Call for Evidence and takes forward the first proposal in the Clean Air Strategy to phase out the sale of the most polluting fuels.

As powers on air quality are devolved, this consultation relates only to proposals for England. The Devolved Administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would consult separately should they wish to take action in this area.

Responses received from both the Clean Air Strategy consultation and this consultation will inform our next steps which will be set out in the final Clean Air Strategy to be published by the end of the year.

The proposals in this more detailed consultation include:

  • Restrictions on the sale of wet wood for domestic burning so that it can only be purchased in volumes up to a specified cut-off point;
  • Applying sulphur standards and smoke emission limits to all solid fuels;
  • Phasing out the sale of bituminous or traditional house coal.

Evidence and opinion provided through the Call for Evidence has been taken on board, and will be highlighted throughout this document.

If you would like to keep in contact with us, to express interest in this any other Defra consultation. Please give us your details through the link below.

https://gov.smartwebportal.co.uk/defra/public/webform.asp?id=108&id2=1D06F7

Audiences

  • Charities/Voluntary Organisations
  • Environmental campaigners
  • Government Agencies
  • Devolved Administrations
  • Environmental professional services
  • Business/Private Sector
  • Local Authorities
  • SME businesses
  • Energy suppliers
  • Trading Standards Officers
  • Environmental Health Officers
  • Professional and Membership Organisations/Agencies

Interests

  • Natural environment
  • Air quality
  • Air pollution