How To Dispose of BBQ Coals in the UK

In the UK, barbecues are a cherished summer tradition, bringing families and friends together for delightful outdoor feasts. However, once the grilling is done, the question arises: how do we safely dispose of the leftover coals and ashes? Improper disposal can lead to environmental concerns, potential bin fires, and even hazards for waste collection vehicles. Ensuring that BBQ coals are disposed of correctly is not just about cleanliness; it’s about safety, environmental responsibility, and adhering to local UK guidelines.

Understanding Different Types of BBQ Coals

The type of fuel you choose can influence the flavour of your food, the heat of your grill, and the environmental impact of your BBQ session. From traditional charcoal to gas options, each has its unique characteristics and disposal needs.

Charcoal BBQ vs. Gas BBQ

While both wood charcoal and gas BBQs offer unique grilling experiences, they differ significantly in their fuel sources and disposal needs. Charcoal BBQs, as the name suggests, use charcoal as fuel, resulting in ash as a byproduct. This ash requires careful disposal to prevent environmental and safety issues. On the other hand, gas BBQs, which use propane or natural gas, don’t produce ash, but they come with their own set of challenges, such as the safe disposal of gas canisters.

Treated vs. Untreated Charcoal

When it comes to charcoal, not all types are created equal. Untreated wood charcoal, often considered a more eco-friendly option, produces ash that can be beneficial to garden soil, similar to wood ash. In contrast, treated charcoal, frequently sold as ‘easy to light’, contains additives that can be toxic. The ash from treated charcoal is not suitable for gardens and must be disposed of in the residual waste bin, ensuring it’s sent to landfill.

Briquettes vs. Natural Lump Charcoal

Briquettes and natural lump charcoal are the two primary forms of wood charcoal used in charcoal grill. Briquettes are often made with binders and fillers, which can include chemicals that are harmful to plants and the environment. Their ash, especially from briquettes with lighter fluid, should be handled with caution. Natural lump charcoal, on the other hand, is made from pure wood and doesn’t contain the additives found in briquettes. Its ash can be more safely used in gardens, but it’s essential to ensure it’s additive-free.

Safety Precautions Before Disposal

Once the fun of grilling wraps up, safety takes centre stage. Disposing of BBQ coals isn’t as simple as tossing them in the bin. Proper precautions ensure that the post-BBQ experience is as safe and environmentally friendly as the cooking itself.

Cooling Down the Coals: The 48-Hour Rule

Before even thinking about disposal, it’s crucial to let the coals cool down. The recommended time is a full 48 hours. This ensures that any residual heat dissipates entirely, reducing the risk of accidental fires. If you’re pressed for time and need to expedite the cooling process, you can pour water over the coals. However, this method requires caution. Rapid cooling can cause coals to crack or shatter, and there’s also the risk of steam burns if you’re not careful.

The Risks of Immediate Disposal

Jumping the gun and disposing of coals too soon can have serious consequences. Hot coals, even if they appear extinguished, can reignite when exposed to oxygen. This can lead to bin fires, which not only damage property but can also endanger lives. Additionally, if hot coals are collected by waste vehicles, they can set fire to other materials in the truck, leading to larger, more dangerous fires and potential harm to waste management personnel.

Tools and Equipment for Safe Handling

Handling coals safely requires the right tools. Once you’re sure the coals have cooled down, it’s best to wrap them in aluminium foil. This prevents any residual wood charcoal ash from making a mess and acts as an added safety measure against accidental ignition. It’s also wise to have a bucket of water or sand nearby when working with coals. This provides a quick way to douse any unexpected flames. And when it comes to disposal, always opt for non-combustible outdoor trash bins. These are designed to contain fires, should any break out.

Methods of Disposing BBQ Coals

In the UK, there are specific methods and guidelines for leftover charcoal disposal to ensure both safety and minimal environmental impact.

Using a Residual Waste Bin: The Landfill Route

After ensuring coals have completely cooled, placing them in your residual waste bin is one option. These coals eventually head to the landfill, so it’s crucial to ensure they’re devoid of any heat to prevent combustion risks.

Recycling and Household Waste Sites in the UK

For those looking for alternatives to the landfill, many local recycling and household waste sites accept BBQ coals. Before heading to these sites, always check their specific guidelines and ensure coals are completely cool.

The Role of Aluminium Foil in Safe Disposal

Wrapping cooled coals in aluminium foil serves a dual purpose. Not only does it contain the ash and prevent mess, but it also acts as an added layer of protection against any residual heat or potential ignition, ensuring safer disposal.

Which Type of Ash Goest Where?

Navigating the disposal of various types of ash can be a bit confusing. Here’s a straightforward guide to help you determine where each type of ash should be disposed of:

  • Charcoal Briquette Ash: Due to the binders and fillers, often including chemicals, this ash is best suited for the landfill.
  • Treated Wood Charcoal Ash: Since it’s treated, it contains additives or chemicals that might not be eco-friendly. Dispose of this in the landfill.
  • Wood Ashes: Pure wood ashes, free from any treatments or additives, can be a beneficial addition to your compost pile, providing essential minerals to the mix.
  • Wood Charcoal Ash: This is the residue from pure wood charcoal without any treatments. It’s safe and can be added to your compost pile to enrich it.

Always ensure the ashes have cooled completely before handling or disposing of them.

Eco-friendly Uses for BBQ Ash and Unused Charcoal Ash

Beyond mere disposal, BBQ ash and unused coals can play a surprising role in eco-friendly practices around the home and garden. These byproducts, when used correctly, can benefit our environment and even enhance our daily lives.

Fertilising Your Garden: The Benefits of Potash

Ash from untreated charcoal is rich in potash, a nutrient that can enrich garden soil. By introducing crushed charcoal rich in potash, you can alter the pH of the soil, making it more alkaline and beneficial for certain plants.

Reuse Charcoal to Deter Pest

Gardeners have long used charcoal ash as a natural pest deterrent. A sprinkle around plants can keep certain pests at bay, reducing the need for chemical repellents.

Reusing Partially Burnt Charcoal: Tips for Storage and Reuse

Don’t be too quick to dispose of partially burnt charcoal. With proper storage, you can reuse these coals for your next BBQ session. Ensure they’re kept dry, and when you’re ready to grill again, simply add fresh charcoal on top.

Other Innovative Uses: From Odour Control to Flower Preservation

Unused wood charcoal has impressive odour-absorbing properties. Placing a few pieces in the fridge can help neutralise unwanted smells. Additionally, adding a small piece of charcoal to the water of cut flowers can extend their freshness, making your bouquets last longer.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Being informed can help you make choices that are safer for you and kinder to the environment.

The Dangers of Disposable Barbecues

While disposable barbecues offer convenience, they come with risks. Often, they’re discarded while still warm, posing a fire hazard. Moreover, their single-use nature contributes to waste, making them a less eco-friendly choice.

Chemical-laden Commercial Charcoals: What to Avoid

Not all charcoals are created equal. Many commercial charcoals contain chemicals and additives to make them easier to light. These chemicals can release harmful fumes when burnt and produce ash that’s unsuitable for gardens.

The Environmental Impact of Improper Disposal

Tossing hot coals or ashes without proper precautions can lead to bin fires, endangering waste collection vehicles and workers. Moreover, improperly disposed coals can leach chemicals into the ground, harming the environment. It’s essential to follow local guidelines and ensure coals are entirely cool before disposal.


As the BBQ season thrives in the UK, it’s paramount that we approach it with a sense of responsibility. From the type of charcoal we choose to the way we dispose of our coals and ashes, every decision has an impact. By adopting safe and eco-friendly practices, we not only ensure our safety but also contribute to a healthier environment. Let’s make every BBQ session a testament to our commitment to sustainability and safety.


How do you dispose of BBQ charcoal ashes?

After ensuring the ashes have cooled completely, which can take up to 48 hours, you can wrap them in aluminium foil and place them in a non-combustible outdoor trash bin. If the ashes come from untreated charcoal, they can also be used as a garden fertilizer.

Can you throw charcoal in the bin?

Yes, but with precautions. Ensure the charcoal has cooled down entirely. If it’s from untreated charcoal, you can also consider reusing it or repurposing it for other eco-friendly uses. For treated charcoal or those with additives, wrap in aluminium foil and place in the bin to send to landfill.

How do you dispose of coal UK?

In the UK, cooled coal ashes can be placed in your residual waste bin for landfill disposal. If you have larger quantities or are unsure, it’s best to check with your local recycling and household waste site for specific guidelines. Always ensure coals are completely cool before disposal to prevent any risks.