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Disposing of ashes safely avoids starting a literal bin fire. Responsible management and disposal are vital to protect your home and health. Dealing with waste of any kind can be difficult. After hosting a barbecue or using a firepit, many people don’t know what to do with the ashes left behind.

Ashes are an unavoidable waste product whenever you burn anything. It could be a log burner keeping you warm indoors through winter or a BBQ for entertaining on those long summer evenings. Burning wood, coal, or any other material leaves behind anything. Read on to learn more about coal and wood ash, and how to dispose of it safely.

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What is ash?

Wood ash is natural and simply a result of setting wood alight and waiting for it to completely burn away. It’s a powdery residue left behind after burning logs, board, chips, or any other wood items. Charcoal ash comes from the same process, like burning for a barbecue, but the ash has different components (minerals and pH value, for example).

Coal is a completely natural substance. However, it must be mined to be used. The earliest recorded coal mining was in the fourth millennium BC in China, although widespread coal mining was initiated during the Industrial Revolution as a way of providing consistent heat for steam engines.

What is ash made from 
and how is it made?

Ash is simply the remnants or residue left behind after burning a material – often wood or coal. Wood is commonly produced in managed forests. Companies will buy a swathe of land and plant saplings in an ordered manner throughout, harvesting them when they’re grown. These are chopped up and sold to consumers and businesses.

Coal can’t be produced quickly, as it’s created over a process lasting millions of years within the earth. Heat and pressure applied naturally to dead plant matter over hundreds of millions of years forms coal. It’s then mined and extracted from the ground in various ways. The ash is created when the coal is completely burned out.

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How to dispose of ash

The best way to get rid of ash depends on the original material that was burned. Whenever you’re disposing of ash and whatever type it is you must always ensure it has cooled down before throwing it away. Here’s how to dispose of ash from wood, coal, and paper:

How to dispose of coal ash

Ash from coal should be allowed to cool, then disposed of in a general waste bin to be removed at a later point in time. It has little nutritional content and benefits and can be harmful to soil and plants, so should not be composted. This includes ashes from a barbecue.

How to dispose of wood ash

Wood ash can be composted due to its high nutritional value, supporting the growth of plants in the garden. This is only advisable for natural wood ash (including that from a fire pit or bonfire), but any ash from treated wood should be disposed of with general waste.

Always allow the wood ash to cool before adding to a compost heap. You can also put wood ash in your domestic garden waste bin if you have one. Many household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) accept wood ash in their garden waste containers as well.

Garden waste guide

How to dispose of paper ashes

Most ashes from burning paper and cardboard can also be composted, as they’re essentially wood product as well. However, ashes from any treated paper or cardboard (such as laminated sheets or cardboard with a metallic, foil, or plastic layer) should be disposed of with general waste.

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What are the problems with wood and coal ash waste? 

Coal ash is considered a hazardous material. Improper disposal can harm the environment. Coal-fired power stations report a higher level of toxic pollutants in the surrounding areas. Allowing coal ash to seep into freshwater lakes, rivers, or nature reserves can cause problems for the local flora and fauna.

The primary risk with wood ash is that it may not have cooled properly prior to disposal. In this case, the ash may cause a fire in its disposal location, leading to severe environmental harm. This could be in your garden if it’s placed on a compost pile or in your general waste bin within your home.

Alternatives to coal and wood ash 

If you don’t wish to create coal or wood ash that needs to be disposed of, there are several alternatives available. For example, if you regularly light a fire in your garden to provide heat, electrical heaters could be a waste-free alternative that can keep you warm while not risking the environment.

If you use coal to power a barbecue, you can always switch to an outdoor gas cooker. Offering the same experience as a typical coal barbecue, an outdoor gas cooker comes without the need to dispose of ashes afterwards. When your gas canister is empty, you simply need to find a recycling centre that accepts canisters instead.

Facts about coal ash and wood ash

Here are some fats about coal and wood ash:

  • Some types of especially fine coal ash (typically ground in power stations) can be used in concrete or filler for construction.
  • Coal ash used in construction can resist chemical attacks and has a very low risk of cracking under extreme heat.
  • Wood ash can be used in acidic soil to balance the pH of the composition and make it easier for plants to grow. However, wood ash is useless in a fruit garden, as fruit plants prefer acidic soil.
  • In winter months, wood ash can be used to thaw ice on walkways, paths, and roads.

Where can you take ash to recycle 
and dispose of it for free?

You can dispose of coal ash by simply placing it in your general waste bin. Wood ash can be either put in your general waste bin or sprinkled on your garden to encourage plant growth.

Please remember to allow all ash to cool before attempting to dispose of it. You may damage your bin or kill the plants in your garden. There’s also the potential to start a fire on your property if you’re not careful with ash disposal.

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