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What’s more harmful: a diesel truck or a wood burning stove?

12th June 2018

Question to all freight exchange platform members: Which of these is responsible for emitting more harmful particulates into the atmosphere – your diesel-powered truck or a wood burning stove?

You could be forgiven for choosing the HGV sitting outside the depot, even more so when you consider that particulates are emitted not just from the exhaust, but also generated from tyre, brake pad and clutch wear. But, while your logic is sound, you’d be wrong to plump for the lorry.

That’s because the latest government findings reveal that a single wood burner generates twice the number of harmful PM2.5 particles than a diesel exhaust. The study also reveals that 40 per cent of particulates emanate from wood and coal fires. [i]Moreover, a paper by the British Medical Journal found that just one “wood log burning stove” sends more PM2.5 into the atmosphere than a “1,000 petrol cars”. [ii]

Wood burning stoves: “an important urban issue”…

But just how many wood burners are there in Britain? Gary Fuller, an air pollution expert from Kings College, recently told Newsnight that “over 1.2 million wood stoves have been bought in the UK”. [iii]But this figure does not account for domestic open fires.

A recent government survey, however, suggests that the 7.5 percent of households engage in domestic wood burning. And in terms of geography, government analysis reveals that the practice has gained most traction in London and the south-east, where 16 per cent of homes burn wood compared to just five per cent in Scotland. [iv]

But, it is the use of wood burning stoves in cities that some academics find particularly concerning. A joint study by Kings College and the National Physical Laboratory, for example estimates in London and Birmingham, that wood burning is responsible for “between 23 to 31 per cent of PM2.5 emissions”.

While the government says that it will not ban domestic burning or “prevent the use or installation of wood-burning stoves”, many of which already meet DEFRA regulations, it is looking at implementing a raft of measures to tackle the problem.

Why green legislation doesn’t always work…

However, what is the link between freight exchange platform members, most of whom drive diesel vehicles, and those who heat their homes using a wood burner or a roaring open log fire? Perhaps it’s the government’s green legislation. After all, it was the government regulation that encouraged people to purchase diesel vans and trucks, just as it was the government that pushed some into heating their houses with wood by imposing compulsory green taxes on gas and electricity bills.

This of course begs more important questions around the efficacy of green legislation. Is it working as well as it could be? And does the government have a strategy in place that tackles the particulates narrative as a whole?

If you were to ask ‘white van man’ and ‘wood burner guy’ they would probably disagree. Take ‘wood burner guy’ for example. His stove already conforms to stringent DEFRA emission guidelines, while ‘white van man’s’ Euro 6 compliant vehicle meets tough emission standards.

Yet despite taking the necessary steps prescribed by government, a feeling pervades in some quarters that the recommendations, while they may make a difference, do not address the wider emissions challenge. More to the point, some ask why the government is focusing its efforts on dirty diesels and coal fires, but not tackling major source of particulates such as cruise liners, which according to a recent Dispatches documentary can emit more than double the particles per cubic centimetre than you would find on a busy London street.[v]

They also wonder about the many clean air zones that are likely to be rolled out across the county over the next few years. Can they effectively eliminate all harmful particulates? Professor Frank Kelly, the government’s leading advisor on air pollution thinks not. In an interview with the Guardian newspaper last year, he noted that no emission zone can stop the micro-particles spread by brake systems, by tyre abrasion, and by excessive use of the clutch, which is often par for the course due to the stop-start nature of city traffic.[vi]

But freight exchange platforms, created for the freight sector by the freight sector, which help members to consolidate loads and eliminate dead miles, can certainly help in this respect.

Take ‘white van man’ and thousands like him. As a member of the Courier Exchange freight exchange platform, he eliminates dead miles, and in doing so, particulates too. Last year, ‘white van man’ made around 212 fewer journeys than his colleagues who don’t belong to collaborative logistics platforms, saving around 500 litres of fuel each year, which of course also means fewer particulate tail pipe emissions.

While it is unclear what the Westminster’s position is on freight exchanges, Professor Kelly, who is the chair of the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, said last year that “fewer cars, not just cleaner cars” is the only way to ensure cleaner air.

Perhaps then the government should do more to promote the idea of collaborative logistics, especially given the fact that freight exchange platforms address all aspects of air pollution including N0x, C02, PM2.5 and PM10 emissions by helping couriers cut out empty miles at source.

Food for thought at least for those in charge of emissions policy, not to mention more money in the pocket for ‘white van man’ and for his favourite restaurant, where thankfully wood-fired pizzas are still on the menu…

[i] Kings College and NPL

Airborne Particles form wood burning in UK cities

[ii] The BMJ

Air Pollution in the UK. The public health problem that won’t go away

07 January 2016

Dr Dorothy L Robinson

Snr Statistician

Australian Air Quality Group

Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia

[iii] Newsnight

Should wood and coal fires be banned from people’s homes?

31, January, 2018

[iv] The Guardian

Why logs are twice as dirty as diesel

By Gary Fuller

11, December, 2017

[v] The Times

Life on the on the ocean wave? It’s more polluted than Piccadilly Circus

By Jerome Starkey

03, July, 2017

[vi] The Times

Total ban on cars ‘the only way to beat air pollution’ says exert Frank Kelly

By Patrick Maguire

05, August, 2017

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