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Knowledge Base » Health and Safety » Garden Incinerators

Garden Incinerators

Last updated on 21st April 2023

There are currently at least 90 incinerators in the UK, with a further 50 being proposed for development. These incinerators are responsible for burning municipal waste, medical waste and waste wood. The use of incineration is often contentious due to health concerns and the sites being an eyesore.

Whilst it is not legal to burn your household rubbish in your own garden (due to the possibility of toxic fumes, pollution or harm to public health), it is generally acceptable to burn certain items of garden waste such as grass, twigs and leaves. When you have a garden fire you must ensure not causing a nuisance or releasing and toxic fumes. The easiest way to do this is by using a garden incinerator.

A garden incinerator is a straightforward piece of equipment that allows you to easily dispose of your garden waste by burning it. They can be purchased in most large hardware stores, garden centres or online. You can also make a DIY incinerator using a few simple materials.

Garden incinerators provide a metal container for certain leftover materials to be burned in, making them safer and more efficient than building an open bonfire in your garden. As with any fire, though, it is important to keep safety in mind and take sensible precautions to avoid an accident or injury.

Garden waste

How does a garden incinerator work?

Garden incinerators are popular because they burn garden waste at high temperatures quickly and efficiently. They are especially popular for use on allotments where a lot of fruit and vegetables are grown and a large amount of gardening related waste is produced on a regular basis.

Garden incinerators are able to burn so hot because of the air holes that allow a consistent flow of air to the flames. They can burn through a significant amount of organic matter in a fairly short space of time.

Cuts in local authority funding mean that some households do not get regular collections of their garden waste, and in 160 local authority areas, this service incurs an additional cost, currently averaging £42.11 per year.

Garden incinerators are becoming increasingly popular as they are:

  • Efficient.
  • Cost effective.
  • Time saving.

This is especially so when compared to paying for garden waste collection or spending time queuing at a local waste disposal site. Incinerating garden waste at home also produces useful ash that can be used around the garden or on the compost heap.

Making a DIY incinerator:

1. Aluminium barrels work best. Metal can cope with the high temperatures generated by burning garden waste unlike some other materials. Select a container that is in good condition, with a sturdy base and that is rust free. The barrels usually look similar to an old fashioned, metal dustbin.

2. Drill holes around the bottom of the barrel, a couple of inches from the base and approximately two inches apart. These holes are there to draw in air flow which feeds the fire. This allows for consistent and safe burning of materials. Take special care during this step and use appropriate tools – a standard drill may work but this depends on the thickness of the aluminium.

3. Select an appropriate location away from combustible materials and debris. Ensure you have swept and cleared your garden.

4. Place bricks underneath the barrel to raise it off the ground. This helps with the air flow and prevents any scorching or burning of the floor beneath.

5. Add your garden waste to the barrel and set it alight using a match. Screwing up some balls of newspaper will help with this step as they catch light easily and should negate the need for an accelerant. For safety reasons it is best to avoid accelerants as far as possible.

6. Work in layers and do not press all of the garden waste together. You will get the best results from layering your garden waste loosely. Do not overfill the incinerator, just top it up as required.

7. Think fire safety. Remember that metal conducts heat and that touching your DIY incinerator could result in burns. Fires can get out of control quickly and though putting the lid on the barrel (if it has a lid) may be enough to choke the flames and put the fire out, it is always best to keep a bucket of water on hand, just in case.

Specialist garden incinerators can also be purchased for around £20 to £30. They are metal and look similar to the DIY incinerators; however, they have a specialised lid with a large hole in. This keeps the incinerator hot so it burns everything more quickly, whilst also allowing smoke to escape. Some garden incinerators also come with an internal flue.

Always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines when using an item that you have purchased and if any self-assembly is required make sure this is done properly and safely. Don’t cut corners, and if in any doubt, go back to the place of purchase for advice.

Buckets of water for safety

How to use a garden incinerator

Fires can quickly get out of control. Fires pose serious risk to people and property, as well as the environment. If you are going to use a garden incinerator it is important that you do so safely.

Tips for using your garden incinerator safely:

1. Wear protective clothing – Garden gloves are a must to ensure that hands are protected from the heat. Avoid wearing anything loose fitting or flammable. You should also consider using PPE such as eye protection, boots and a dust mask.

2. Select an appropriate location away from fences, sheds or low hanging branches – These could all catch fire easily. Similarly, piles of dry leaves or branches could all catch fire and this could spread quickly, so make sure to clear and sweep the area first. Ensure flammable liquids such as petrol are stored well away from the incinerator.

3. Use a flat surface to stand your incinerator on – It is important that the incinerator is stable and is not going to topple over. You must also select a surface that is non-combustible, such as a patio slab.

4. Keep a bucket of water on hand – Fires can quickly start to burn out of control so keeping water on hand is a good idea.

5. Avoid using your garden incinerator on extremely windy or dry days – Dry vegetation and leaves can catch fire easily by accident. Hot embers can travel a long way and ignite flammable items. High winds could make the incinerator fall over or blow the smoke around, causing danger, a disturbance or nuisance to those in the surrounding area.

6. Never leave a fire unattended – Even small fires should not be left unattended. Accidents can happen very quickly and, as with general fire safety, it is never wise to leave your garden incinerator unsupervised.

7. Emptying – Once your garden waste has been reduced to ash you should leave it to cool, preferably overnight. The cooled ashes can be scooped up and stored in a sealed bag or container. Garden waste is primarily carbon based – wood ash is high in potassium and will make great fertiliser for your soil or can be added to your compost bin.

Can you use an incinerator in your garden?

You are not permitted to get rid of any household waste if it will cause:

  • Pollution.
  • Harm to people’s health.

When used correctly and for permitted items, garden incinerators may be used to burn waste items, as there are no laws that provide a blanket ban on burning rubbish or lighting a bonfire in your garden. However, you may wish to get rid of your garden waste by composting it instead.

Some councils also provide a home collection service for garden waste during specific months of the year (collections are usually paused during the winter months). Using your local authority’s garden waste collection service might also be an alternative to regularly lighting fires. There may be a charge for this service, so check your local council’s website for details.

If you have decided that using a garden incinerator is right for your needs, you will need to look after it to prevent damage and make it last. When not in use, your garden incinerator needs to be stored in a place where it can be kept dry. This will prevent it from rusting prematurely. A good quality garden incinerator that is looked after properly should last two-three years with medium use, making it a good investment if you have a lot of garden waste to dispose of.

Garden incinerator being lit to get rid of waste

How to light a garden incinerator

Many garden incinerators are built with feet attached. This keeps them elevated off the ground and allows air to flow. If your incinerator does not have legs, you can prop it up on bricks or pieces of slab; however, remember to space them evenly and select stones that are flat and similar in size. It is very dangerous to use an incinerator that is not on a solid footing as it could easily fall over.

  • Put some newspaper balls in the base of the incinerator that have been scrunched loosely.
  • Add a loose layer of dry twigs and grasses first (on top of the newspaper layer).
  • Add larger branches on top.
  • Light the paper through the holes at the base using either a long match or safety lighter.
  • Keeping the lid on will help the incinerator maintain a constant, high temperature.
  • Once your fire is established you can keep adding to it. Remember to work carefully and use your PPE.
  • Adding wet branches and leaves will result in excessive smoke. Take care not to breathe the smoke in as this can be very harmful to health.
  • Overfilling it could cause the garden incinerator to topple over.
  • Don’t squash the materials that you want to burn down or pack them in too tightly. Everything will burn best if you work in layers, use dry materials and allow for plenty of air flow.
  • Large items need to be broken up into small, manageable pieces that will fit easily into the incinerator. Prepare the garden waste prior to burning by chopping it into smaller pieces or using a chipper.
  • Never handle hot ashes or place them into your household waste bin. Removing your incinerator’s lid will help with the cooling process.

What can you burn in a garden incinerator?

Garden incinerators work best with dry, organic items, including:

  • Grass.
  • Hedge cuttings.
  • Twigs.
  • Branches (broken up into manageable pieces).
  • Leaves.

On allotments, sometimes people like to use their incinerator to burn offcuts such as fruit and vegetable tops or leaves. This is especially useful if you do not want to compost them due to concerns over spreading disease.

What should you not burn in a garden incinerator?

  • Plastic.
  • Paint.
  • Fibreglass.
  • Chemicals.
  • Rubber.
  • Wooden items (such as furniture or doors).
  • Food waste.
  • Animal waste.
  • Electrical items.

There are other ways to get rid of the above items including recycling through your local authority, using a licensed waste carrier or visiting your tip. Some food waste can also be composted.

Grass can be disposed of using a garden incinerator

Garden incinerator law

You could face a fine if you light a bonfire and the smoke drifts across the road, resulting in a danger to traffic.

Local authorities also have a duty to investigate claims made by people stating that their neighbours are causing a nuisance. Smoke and fumes from garden fires may be classed as a ‘statutory nuisance’. In this instance, the LA may issue an abatement notice and you may face fines if you fail to comply with this.

Before lighting your garden incinerator check that you are in compliance with any laws or bylaws and that you are adhering to health and safety protocol. This will help to ensure that you are burning your waste sensibly and safely.

Always think fire safety, do not take any unnecessary risks with fire and in an emergency always dial 999.

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About the author

Vicky Miller

Vicky Miller

Vicky has a BA Hons Degree in Professional Writing. She has spent several years creating B2B content and writing informative articles and online guides for clients within the fields of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, recruitment, education and training. Outside of work she enjoys yoga, world cinema and listening to fiction podcasts.

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