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Disposable Barbecues

Volume 723: debated on Tuesday 22 November 2022

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the use of disposable barbecues on open moorland, on beaches, in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and in certain other areas designated for environmental protection; to give local authorities the power to prohibit the sale of disposable barbecues in their area; and for connected purposes.

This year has seen us reach unprecedented temperatures in the UK. Those rising temperatures, combined with the droughts we saw this summer, turned the UK into a tinderbox. We have previously operated as a cold country, but while we are working hard to limit the extent of climate change, we need to recognise that these conditions are likely to become more regular. This year saw more than 700 wildfires burning 70 square miles of some of our most vulnerable and precious habitats—for what? The right to scald a sausage anywhere of your choosing regardless of the risks. We need to adjust our approach to hot weather, and one of the products that causes some of the biggest issues to local communities is disposable barbecues.

This Bill does not propose to ban the Great British barbecue. Instead, it seeks to make sure that we can all enjoy our beautiful beaches and countryside safely without damaging them. It is difficult to ascertain exactly how many fires are caused by disposable barbecues. There is no clear identifier on the fire service’s national incident reporting system. My local fire service, Devon and Somerset, believes that is the main cause of local underreporting of fires caused by single-use barbecues.

This summer, a fire at Baggy Point in North Devon was caused by an innocuous accident. People had set a disposable barbecue on a rocky area along the coast. However, the wind picked up the lightweight barbecue and blew it up to the gorse land above. Some 20 acres of gorse land was burned, destroying the habitats and nesting sites of a number of species. Baggy Point is a site of special scientific interest, and it could take decades to recover to its former glory.

The fire took significant resources at a busy time for our services. It took 70 firefighters a full day to put out. That reflects the general trend, which shows that while there has been a slight drop in the number of fires, there has been an increase in the time and resources taken to fight them. Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service recently detailed just how much it cost to put out a significant wildfire. One of its fires cost more than half a million pounds and took 4 million litres of water to put out. While disposable barbecues only cost a few pounds, their impact can be so much more than that. Some 78% of local authorities have experienced fires caused by disposable barbecues. That is despite 49% of local authorities having bans in place, and 64% having signage to discourage use.

While fires are the most obvious issue with single-use barbecues, the intrinsic problem is the cooling period. They are impregnated with highly flammable emollients taking hours to cool down. Even when they have, they can still spontaneously relight. That means people cannot move them when they have finished with them, so they leave them still burning or carry them when cool enough to pick up, but still smouldering, to a bin. Manufacturer instructions warn against picking up the appliance until it is completely cooled—a process that takes many more hours than most consumers are prepared to give when they head out to the countryside. They are simply not fit for purpose.

Some 88% of local authorities report having to deal with litter from these barbecues. This litter can damage the grass it is placed on, harm wildlife and, if used on sand, the sand heats up and can cause injuries to children and pets. Every summer, there are reports of injuries from hot sand where barbecues have sat, as well as from those that have been buried within the sand. Companies claim their products can reach up to 400°C. While the sand is obviously inflammable, it can hold heat for hours at a time. The most serious of these injuries involves treatment by skin grafts and a long stretch in hospital. We have successful campaigns every summer to educate people about the risks of the water in hot weather. It is time that we similarly take control of the risks that these disposable barbecues cause.

The heat that these barbecues give off also causes damage when people attempt to dispose of them. Some 68% of local authorities say that barbecues have caused damage to bins, and occasionally these fires can also injure frontline waste removal workers. This year saw a barbecue reignite inside a bin lorry. Even when people try to do the right thing, they are causing damage to local amenities. Hazardous waste should not be so easily available, especially in areas of significant importance.

In Keep Britain Tidy’s survey of local authorities, it was highlighted that the use of disposable barbecues was most problematic in areas near supermarkets or high streets. That implies that it is casual use by consumers unaware of the risks that leads to most of the issues. That is echoed in the response from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, which noted that there were fewer fires than it had anticipated nearer to supermarkets during the hot weather, and it wanted to praise supermarkets that this summer took the initiative to ban these products. However, relying on retailers to decide whether they will temporarily stop the sale of disposable barbecues is simply not sufficient. As a society, the British public have made it clear that they are moving away from single-use culture. We have made great strides to reduce our plastic, with the banning of plastic straws, the massive uptake of reusable cups and bottles, and more and more people incorporating multi-use products into their lives. However, disposable barbecues are still the predominant portable barbecue that people choose to use.

For the cost of only a few pounds, people can set up their own portable fire. While the companies that make these products are at pains to point out that each individual element is recyclable, it is complicated to separate those elements out, and that does not take into account where and when people will be seeking to dispose of them. People are not going to separate out scorching metal and coals and put them into public waste bins, and if they do, as I pointed out earlier, that is not always a safe option.

I look forward to the outcome of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ research project on sky lanterns, barbecues and helium balloons, and I understand that the Government do not want to prematurely act on any sort of blanket ban. However, this Bill seeks to ban their use in a very limited way and to enable local authorities to act where we know that there is a high risk of disposable barbecues causing serious damage.

Once upon a time, we could smoke on aeroplanes, and we used to think that was okay, whereas it is completely unacceptable now. I hope that we will look back on today and wonder why disposable barbecues, which are already banned in France, the United States and even Australia—the home of the barbecue—were ever considered acceptable.

Some 88% of councils that responded to the Keep Britain Tidy survey said they would like to see the Government intervene on single-use barbecues—the highest response to any question asked. Over 27,000 people signed a petition to completely ban the sale and use of disposable barbecues in the UK. We cannot continue to allow the right to scald a sausage anywhere, cause so much damage and destruction and cost so much to our vital public services in dealing with disposable barbecue debris. The time to act is now.

Question put and agreed to.


That Sally-Ann Hart, Mrs Flick Drummond, Jane Hunt, Simon Fell, Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger, Sir Gary Streeter, Theresa Villiers, Dr Neil Hudson, Derek Thomas, Ian Levy, Caroline Nokes and Selaine Saxby present the Bill.

Selaine Saxby accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2023, and to be printed (Bill 196).