Reader question: I have been brushing up fallen leaves around my house. What are the rules surrounding garden bonfires in France?
It is against the law to burn garden waste in the open air, although there are some exceptions.
Garden waste is a form of biowaste. It can consist of:
- Grass cuttings
- Fallen leaves
- Branches and leaves collected during pollarding and brushwood cutting
- Fruit and vegetable peels
The law allows individuals to mulch them or leave them to decompose in a compost bin.
There are collective green waste containers at rubbish tips managed by your local authority, with whom you can also often arrange for your garden cuttings to be collected from outside your house.
However, it is normally forbidden to burn green waste in the open air or in a garden incinerator.
Individuals are allowed to burn their rubbish if:
- There is no tip or collection service in your area
- You are obliged to clear certain areas of vegetation, for example on the edges of a forest where there is a wildfire risk. This may involve cutting away the undergrowth or pruning the trees so that a future fire cannot spread to nearby houses
- A plan de prévention des risques incendie de forêt (PPRif) in place.These plans are implemented to mitigate the risk of forest fires, and currently apply in 200 locations across the country.
You can find out if one of these exceptions applies to your area by consulting your mairie.
A prefecture can also introduce a temporary exemption if burning vegetation will help combat a plant disease or stamp out an invasive plant species.
Why is burning garden waste prohibited?
Burning green waste – especially when it is wet – releases substances that are toxic to humans and the surrounding environment.
For example, burning 50kg of vegetation in the open air produces just as much pollution from harmful particulates as driving 14,000km in a new petrol car.
People living around the site of the fire may also be disturbed by the odour and the smoke.
Finally, if not properly supervised, bonfires can easily get out of control and become dangerous.
What is the punishment for ignoring the rules?
If someone does start a fire in their garden, their neighbours can alert the local mairie.
A maximum fine of €450 can be imposed on those who ignore the rules, and if the smell of the smoke is particularly unpleasant, people living nearby can initiate legal proceedings against them over neighbourhood disturbance and olfactory pollution.