ash from wood fire.

Wood and Coal Ash Disposal and Recycling

Burning coal and wood always leaves behind ash. Whether it’s in a log burner, incinerator, bonfire, or barbecue, you’ll need to dispose of ash left behind in a safe and effective way. Ash disposal can be straightforward or involve a few more complex steps, depending on its type.

Here we answer some common questions about ash waste from burning both coal and wood to help you store and dispose of it properly. Learn what to do with ash and everything you need to know about ash disposal below.

Ash disposal and
recycling FAQs

  • What is ash made of?

    Ash tends to be made up of a mixture of chemical components, but it depends on whether it’s produced after burning coal or wood. The main element of ash is usually carbon. Some amounts of other chemical components make up the rest of the ash, such as:

    • Magnesium
    • Calcium
    • Phosphorous
    • Potassium
  • What type of waste is ash?

    Coal ash is not a type of hazardous waste. Instead, it usually classes as general waste. After the burning of wood though, this can create ash that may class as hazardous waste. It depends on the type of wood, as some wood ash can be thrown away with garden waste and used for composting.

  • How is ash made?

    Coal ash is the waste leftover at power plants from burning coal for fuel. It’s made up of lead, arsenic, mercury, and chromium – substances that are often dangerous to human health. Wood ash is a powder that remains after burning wood at a bonfire, fireplace, or industrial plant. It’s made up of calcium and other non-combustible elements.

  • What are some facts about ash?

    A few key facts about ash are:

    • Wood ash tends to contain small amounts of nutrients like copper, zinc, and iron.
    • Ash is highly alkaline and can increase the PH levels in your garden soil.
    • Even if you use wood ash as a fertiliser, the lack of nitrogen means you still need to find another source.
    • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 140 million tons of coal ash is generated every year.
  • Where can you dispose of coal and wood ash?

    You can dispose of coal ash by putting it into your general waste bin and arranging collection by a licensed waste carrier. Alternatively, you can take some wood ash to a recycling centre that accepts garden waste, where it may be used for compost.

  • What are some free eco-friendly alternatives to wood and coal ash disposal?

    While most people just throw ash away, you can use the following eco-friendly methods to recycle and dispose of both coal and wood ash in an eco-friendlier manner:

    • Compost – Some wood ash contains nutrients that are great for plant life. For this reason, you can mix wood ash into your compost heap. This only applies to wood ash and not coal ash, as coal ash isn’t great for soil because it’s made up of carcinogens.
    • Camping – You can use ash to clean the grease from all your pans while you’re out camping. Rub the ashes directly on your pans or soak them in a mixture of water and ash for a couple of hours before rinsing.
    • Snails and slugs – Ash is a great way to deter garden pests like snails and slugs. All you need to do is build a little wall of ash around your plants to keep pests from destroying your vegetable patch or flowers.
    • Icy paths – Sprinkling wood ash on pathways during winter makes it easier to walk across icy ground.
  • What are the problems with ash waste?

    The wastewater from coal ash ponds and landfill can seep into rivers, groundwater and streams. It’s packed with toxic pollutants like chromium (a carcinogen), arsenic (a cancer-causing element) and selenium (a chemical that can cause impaired vision and paralysis).

    In the short term, exposure to coal ash can cause:

    • Nausea
    • Throat irritations
    • Shortness of breath

    In the long-term, exposure to ash may cause:

    • Kidney damage
    • Liver damage
    • A range of cancers
  • What can ash be made into?

    Ashes from burned wood can be used to create soaps as they contain sufficient amounts of potassium to make lye – a vital element of soap.

    Coal ash can be reused in several ways. For example, it can be used as a top layer for unpaved roads, as structural fill, or as an ingredient in concrete. The heat released from burning can also be used to convert water into steam. This can then be used to generate a turbine and produce electricity.

Learn about more 
waste types

Find out more about other rubbish streams.

Read our guides to waste types
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