Most Polluting Wood Burner Fuels Banned from 2021
The government has confirmed plans to phase out coal and wet wood to fuel wood burners, stoves or open fires in homes from 2021. This means that suppliers must offer more environmentally-friendly options such as dry wood and manufactured solid fuels.
In the UK, approximately 2.5m homes in the UK rely on wet wood or coal for home heating accounting for 38% of the UK’s emissions of PM2.5 (particulate matter). The government is aiming to reduce emissions of PM2.5 by 46% by 2030. PM2.5 is the small particles of air pollution which find their way into the body’s lungs and blood. Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to human health according to the UK's Clean Air Strategy.
By February 2021, all traditionally bagged house coal will have been phased out. Meanwhile, loose coal being sold directly to customers by approved coal merchants will be phased out by the later date of February 2023.
In terms of wet wood, restrictions around the selling of units of less than 2m3 will be introduced from February 2021. This will give the opportunity for existing stocks to be sold. Any wet wood sold in a larger size than 2m3 must be sold alongside advice to dry it out.
Coal is well-known to be a high carbon fuel so the ban on this fuel should come as no surprise but...
Is burning wood better for the environment?
The government already has plans to phase out the UK’s last coal-fired energy plants by 2025. But why is burning wood a problem?
Open fires and wood burning stoves have increased in popularity in recent years all over the country either as the sole source of heating or an additional form of heating. Many did so because they believed they were making a better decision in terms of minimising carbon emissions as burning wood is often regarded as 'carbon neutral'. This means that burning the wood only emits as much carbon as the tree absorbed while growing so no additional carbon is added to the atmosphere.
However, dry wood is not the problem the government is targeting.
Wet wood (which is often found in bags of logs sold in garden centres, petrol stations and DIY shops) contains moisture and produces high levels of smoke and PM2.5 when burnt. Wet wood is also referred to as unseasoned wood.
Plans to ban these fuels were initially announced over 18 months ago but now the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed it is going ahead and that the public should start using “cleaner alternatives”.
The 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.”
What this means for coal or wood burning stove owners?
It is important to note that the government is not banning wood or coal burning stoves but phasing out the use of polluting fuels. Homeowners living in Clean Air zones are already restricted in terms of the fuels they burn as they are not allowed to emit dense smoke from wood burning stoves or open fires, but the new regulations will make this a nationwide ban.
Consultations are already underway to address the same concerns in Scotland and Wales as part of a revised air quality strategy.
What can you burn in a stove or on open fire?
It will still be possible to use a wood burning stove if it is fueled by wood which has been dried thoroughly. This means you can buy dry or seasoned wood which has been dried in a kiln and contains less than 20% moisture. An example of a fuel which can still be used under the new regulations is wood briquettes which are made from compressed dry sawdust and/or wood chips.
You could theoretically cut your own wood if you have access to trees, but you should dry them before burning them.
There are likely to be teething troubles with the new regulations as it appears that local councils will have no way of monitoring whether or not homeowners are burning dry or wet wood as they will not have the power to inspect homes. In reality, there is nothing to stop people from chopping down their own wood and not drying it first.