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Clear the air

Clear the air

Updated 17 March 2017 2:58pm

Each day we breathe in about 26,000 times and inhale 14,000 litres of air. When that air contains smoke and other pollutants we put our health at risk.

Some things are just plain bad to burn so check that you only put the right stuff in your fire place, log burner or farm fire and make sure the smoke from your garden fire or barbeque is not a nuisance to others. You can download a copy of Greater Wellington’s policy on burning here.

Bad to burn

  • Rubbish and household waste including plastic of any sort, polystyrene, coated or covered metal, rubber, paint, waste oil, pitch asphalt, fabric, kitchen waste or large amounts of printed paper synthetic materials like foam or fibreglass or cardboard. 
  • Treated timber for outdoor use, such as, fencing or decking, outdoor furniture or cladding. For more information on treated wood download our factsheet.
  • Coated wood or wood product with a coating, such as melamine or formica, painted, stained or varnished wood
  • Modified wood products such as MDF or custom wood, chip board or plywood or other wood that contain glue and binding agents.
  • Wet or green wood and plant waste that produce large amounts of smoke.
  • Motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts
  • Asbestos contained in materials like insulation, roofing material and some rope

In the home

All home fires pollute the air. However an efficient, low-emission wood burner used correctly generates more heat and less smoke.

To get the best out of your fire:

  • Use dry wood. This gives more heat and causes less pollution.
  • Buy your firewood before winter. Store it so that air can circulate freely away from the rain
  • Start your fire with kindling. Add big pieces of wood once there is a good bed of embers
  • After starting a fire leave the air controls open for at least 30 minutes to help the wood burn well and build up a good temperature
  • Never burn rubbish, treated or painted timber. They release toxic chemicals
  • Leave the air controls on your wood burner open overnight to give out more heat rather than letting your fire smoulder. This keeps your home warmer and generates less smoke
  • Check the smoke coming out of your chimney. A clear emission usually means an efficient fire and less pollution. If it’s not clear check the previous tips.

For a demonstration of good burning techniques from Environment Canterbury see

On the farm

Conditions around what can and can’t be burned also apply on the farm.

Burning waste releases hazardous and toxic substances into the air and leaves a concentrated ashy residue so the smoke not only affects people’s health through inhalation but can also affect roof water supplies, soil surfaces and spoil crops. In some cases drifting smoke may cause a driving hazard.

Alternatives to burning waste material

Organise your recycling to make it easy for you and your family.  Utilise your local recycling scheme or recycling centres at your local landfill. Take waste that cannot be recycled to a registered landfill site. If burning is your only option:

  • Check with your local council as new bylaws have been introduced in some regions that ban open burning
  • Contact the fire service as a permit may be required
  • Check weather conditions are favourable, ensure the wind will blow smoke away from built up areas and roads for the duration of the fire. Ideally site the fire as far from your property boundary as possible
  • Check with your neighbours to ensure they are not going to be working or socialising outdoors
  • Stumps, waste timber and prunings should be thoroughly dry to reduce smoke
  • Remove material that is bad to burn
  • Never use accelerants
  • Create smaller fires and ensure the fuel is loosely stacked, fires need oxygen to burn completely. 
  • Ensure the fire does not smoulder
  • Consider postponing the lighting of your fire if there is likely to be smoke from other fires
  • Avoiding burning in the late afternoon/evening and on calm frosty days
  • Always be prepared to put the fire out if conditions change or you discover that you are causing a nuisance.

Waste minimisation and efficient use of resources to prevent waste from being created is a much better way to manage farm waste and protect our environment:

  • reduced costs through efficient processes and purchasing 
  • reduced pollution by no longer burying or burning rubbish 
  • environmental benefits – reduced energy consumption, conservation of natural resources, extension of landfill capacity 
  • demonstrates social responsibility and environmental awareness 
  • protects the environment for present and future generations

Complaints about bad burning

  • Greater Wellington Regional Council does not have powers to enter domestic premises therefore regulation of what is burnt on fires inside the home is difficult although we can provide advice and educate on good burning to prevent adverse health and environmental effects.
  • If you are being affected by unpleasant smoke and know where it is coming from you can download this leaflet and pop a copy in the letter box of the property where the burning is happening. If it continues then call the Environmental Hotline 0800 496 734 and provide the address details and we will send them a letter with advice. You will be required to give your name and contact details which will remain confidential.
  • Call the Environmental Hotline 0800 496 734 if you see burning of ‘bad materials’  happening outside in your neighbourhood.

 Winter air - Masterton