PLASTIC FREE HOME: Are wood burning stoves (‘log burners’) bad for the environment and/or our health?

David Lamont

We can probably all agree that wood-burning stoves are easy on the eye and generally add a certain charm or homely feeling to your lounge or another room in the house. But, sadly they aren’t as beneficial for our health, so with the colder months approaching we explain why you may want to think twice before stoking that fire…

Are wood burners bad for the environment?

Some will argue that wood-burning stoves can offer an almost carbon-neutral way to heat your home while reducing your reliance on and use of heating systems powered by fossil fuels, returning to the atmosphere the carbon stored by the tree that the wood came from. Personally, we aren’t big fans of burning anything, let alone a tree.

Are wood burners bad for our health?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Particulate Matter (PM) is a serious problem when it comes to our health.

Tiny specs of pollution (or particulates), each several hundred times smaller than a human hair or a grain of sand can enter our lungs, reach our bloodstream and become embedded in our major organs and even our brain. The WHO says that 92% of people live in an area where the levels of air population are above the recommended levels. In the UK, this includes more than 40 cities and towns.

A 2017 report published by Greenpeace and The Guardian found that around 50,000 children across England and Wales are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.

Alarmingly, NHS England has suggested that almost 30% of preventable deaths in England are due to non-communicable diseases specifically attributed to air pollution. Health issues can include:

  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease
  • heart attack
  • irregular heartbeat
  • aggravated asthma
  • decreased lung function
  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

Where do particulates come from?

The burning of fuels including coal and certain types of wood is among the leading contributors to particulate pollution in our air. In fact, a wood-burning stove can emit more particles than a diesel truck in a given time period.

Research by King’s College London has suggested that wood burning in London is responsible for up to 31% of the city’s particulate pollution, contributing to a rise in air pollution.

There are over 1.5 million wood-burning stoves in the UK, which will be affected by new restrictions.

What does the UK government say?

On 14 January 2019, the UK government unveiled its Clean Air Strategy and promised to set a “bold new goal” to reduce particulates by 2030.

The most polluting fuels used in stoves will be banned by the UK government from 2022, while the sale of ‘wet woods’, often found for sale at petrol stations and supermarkets may also be limited.

In addition, local authorities could be given greater powers in existing smoke control areas, where only smoke-free fuels can be burned and approved stoves used.

The move has been praised by the WHO as an “example for the rest of the world to follow”.

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Published by
David Lamont
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