Swanage Railway saves disposable barbecue charcoal from landfill

A supermarket that stopped selling single use barbecues has recycled its old stock and given six tonnes of charcoal briquettes to Swanage Railway to be repurposed.

The huge skip of charcoal arrived at Swanage Railway’s depot on Monday 24th April 2023, from where it was shovelled into bags to be used to help light the steam locomotives. A number of bags were also sent over to the Veteran’s Forge blacksmith at Harmans Cross.

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Barbecue charcoal arrives at Swanage Railway

Frank Roberts with volunteers from Swanage Army Link shovel up the delivery of charcoal at Swanage Railway

Southern Co-op has banned the sale of disposable barbecues

This follows the decision in 2022 by Southern Co-op, which has stores across Dorset, to permanently ban the sale of single use barbecues which can cause wildfires if not cooled down safely. This left the supermarket with 8,000 of the items to dispose of.

With help from Litter Free Dorset, Dorset Council and its recycling contractor W and S Recycling, the idea was to recycle as much of the product as possible.

A team of volunteers including staff from Southern Co-op, turned up on Thursday 20th April 2023 at W and S Recycling in Poole to separate the components of the disposable barbecues.

The plastic sleeves, paper liners, and cardboard outer trays were processed with the household recycling and the metal grill sheet and foil trays have gone to W and S’ scrap metal site.

Litter Free Dorset barbecue recycling

At W and S Recycling in Poole, volunteers opened the disposable barbecues and sorted the components for recycling

Barbecue charcoal arrives at Swanage Railway

Frank Roberts takes delivery of the charcoal briquettes

Volunteers left “to pick up the mess”

This left six tonnes of charcoal briquettes to dispose of and that’s when Swanage anti-litter campaigner and Swanage Railway trustee Frank Roberts suggested that the heritage line may be able to help, rather than send the briquettes to landfill.

Frank Roberts who runs the Swanage Landers who pick up litter from along the town’s road verges, said:

“While not of a high enough quality to fuel a locomotive, the charcoal will be used to help start the engine’s fire. It’s good to see it repurposed rather than going to landfill.

“I don’t think some people understand the consequences of using disposable barbecues and not disposing of them properly. The sheer size of the bill for causing large wildfires like the recent one in Studland is massive.

“And even when not causing fires, on many occasions, single use barbecues are just abandoned on the beach or on the heath because they are too hot to take home, so it gets left to the National Trust, Dorset Council rangers and our volunteers to pick up the mess, which is not good.”

Litter Free Dorset barbecue recycling
Souther Co-op at Litter Free Dorset barbecue recycling

Director of sustainability for Southern Co-op Gemma Lacey says that stopping the sale of disposable barbecues in its stores will hit the bottom line but is the ethical thing to do

Campaign to stop retailers selling disposable barbecues

Litter Free Dorset is calling on all retailers to follow the example of Southern Co-op to stop selling disposable barbecues.

The campaign group has been holding meetings with all supermarkets, leading to some success with a number of retailers including Aldi, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer as well as Southern Co-op removing disposable barbecues from their shelves.

Locally in Swanage, Budgens, Costcutters and Nixons all stopped selling the item sometime ago.

The Co-op in Swanage, which is separate from Southern Co-op, is the only town centre retailer still to sell disposable barbecues, although it did remove them from sale in August 2022 following the Studland heath fire. New stock of disposable barbecues was back on the shelves in April 2023.

Emma Teasdale at Litter Free Dorset barbecue recycling

Litter Free Dorset coordinator, Emma Teasdale is delighted that Southern Co-op has made this move and hopes that more retailers will follow

“Disposable barbecues are an inherently bad product”

Litter Free Dorset coordinator, Emma Teasdale speaking at the recycling event said:

“Disposable barbecues are an inherently bad product – we don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun but if they hadn’t been invented we wouldn’t miss them. It may be nice to have a barbecue but we don’t need them. Certainly the environment doesn’t need them.

“To actually make them, uses resources in the first place and once used they are practically impossible to recycle.

“Some manufacturers and retailers are misleading consumers by saying they can be recycled as it needs specialists to do so and most don’t have access to this via normal household recycling, which is as good as useless.

“The main reason single use barbecues continue to be sold is to make money and turn a quick profit. Many are bought as an impulse purchase, so the supermarket knows it will then get you to buy all the burgers and sausages to go with them.”

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue at Litter Free Dorset barbecue recycling

Stuart Gillion from Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue says the service is encouraging the expansion of PSPOs that enable fines to be issued for people lighting outdoor fires

Fines for lighting outdoor fires

Legal measures have been introduced in parts of Dorset to make the lighting of outdoor fires liable to a fine.

However the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) doesn’t cover most of Purbeck, which means that while people can be requested not to light a disposable barbecue, there is little that can be legally done to deter them.

Ray Bryan at Litter Free Dorset barbecue recycling

Councillor Ray Bryan getting his hands dirty to get rid of disposable barbecues

“Purbeck needs to be protected”

Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for highways, travel and environment, councillor Ray Bryan went along to help with the recycling of the barbecues. He said:

“If people don’t behave and use barbecues responsibly, then we must look at the next stage and I support the extension of the PSPO. Of course it needs consultation but I believe that most of the general public would support that move – bringing in fines, enforcing them and giving more power to rangers and enforcement officers.

“I’m determined to beat this issue and reduce the risk to our heathland. We want to talk to people rather than enforcing, but I have no hesitation in bringing a paper to Dorset Council to introduce fines for other areas not already covered by the PSPO. This should be possible in the next three to four months.

“We’re speaking to wholesalers and retailers and I’ll personally be contacting the manager of the Co-op in Swanage to ask why the supermarket is still selling disposable barbecues. Purbeck needs to be protected, it’s a cost to the emergency services, a cost to the environment, a risk to life and to wildlife.

“This is just the start of our campaign. We’re talking to other councils, to other Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and to people across the country, to get rid of this single use item!”

The Co-op that owns the Swanage supermarket was approached for comment but has not yet responded.

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