Sustainable Energy

In bid to tackle air pollution, the UK will ban coal and certain types of wood for domestic burning

Key Points
  • Government says coal fires and wood-burning stoves are "single largest source" of PM2.5, a harmful pollutant.
  • Under the plans, sales of wet wood and coal for domestic burning will be phased out over the next few years. 
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The U.K. government is phasing out the sale of both wet wood and house coal for "domestic burning" as it seeks to encourage the use of cleaner fuels in households.

In an announcement Friday, the government said coal fires and wood-burning stoves — a traditional feature in many homes across the U.K. — were the "single largest source" of PM2.5, a fine particular matter that is classed as a pollutant.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), industry, cars, trucks and households, "emit complex mixtures of air pollutants," a great deal of which are harmful to humans. The WHO states that, out of all of these, "fine particulate matter has the greatest effect on human health."

Under the U.K. government's plans, sales of wet wood and coal for domestic burning will be phased out between 2021 and 2023. The phasing out of sales of "bagged traditional house coal" will take place by February next year, while loose coal sold directly to customers from approved merchants will be phased out by February 2023.

This, the government said, would enable suppliers and homes to transition to cleaner types of fuel such as manufactured solid fuel and dry wood, which, according to authorities, generate less pollution and are less expensive and more efficient.

Restrictions on the sale of wet wood in packages of less than 2m3 – two cubic meters – will be introduced from February next year, while wet wood in bigger volumes will have to be "sold with advice on how to dry it before burning from this date." As the name indicates, wet wood contains moisture. When it is burned, it produces "smoke and harmful particulates" and should be "seasoned" or dried before burning.

When it comes to manufactured solid fuels, the government said it would be introducing a limit on their use for domestic combustion. Producers of these fuels will have to show they have a "very low sulphur content and only emit a small amount of smoke." In addition, these kinds of fuels will have to be labeled as being compliant with new regulations.

"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," Stephen Holgate, the Royal College of Physicians' special advisor on air quality, said in a statement.

"Inhaling combustion particles from any source is harmful, but more so than ever when it's directly within your home," Holgate added. "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."

Local authorities and governments have been attempting to boost air quality through bans on certain types of fuel for years.

In 1990 a ban on the "the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous fuel" — known as the "smoky coal ban" — was introduced to Dublin.

According to Ireland's Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, "approximately 8,000 premature deaths have been averted" in Dublin since the ban was introduced.

In the years since, the ban has been introduced to other parts of the country. It has been supplemented by a ban on the actual burning of smoky coal as well as other banned fuels in so called Low Smoke Zones.