More than one in three people were unable to correctly identify that charcoal is made from wood, a WWF survey has found, and many don’t link it to deforestation.
- One in four thinks charcoal is mined from the ground (coal)
- Production of charcoal link to deforestation not widely known – but 11m hectares needed annually to satisfy EU demand
- 72 per cent expect shops to make sure charcoal is from sustainable sources
In the survey, which was conducted to find out the UK public’s attitudes to sustainability of charcoal, 8 per cent admitted not knowing what it was made from, even when given a list of materials to choose from, and 25 per cent thought charcoal was made from mined coal. Just over 3 in 5 answered correctly that it is made from wood (61%).
Only two in five people (42%) thought the production of charcoal contributes to deforestation, when in fact more than 3.28 billion tonnes of timber is needed to make the amount of charcoal imported into the EU every year, roughly equivalent to 11 million hectares of forest – or almost half a football pitch per second. To put this into context, England’s area is 13million hectares.
The poll showed that nearly three quarters of UK adults (72%) expect retailers to make sure the charcoal that they sell comes from sustainable sources.
Beatrix Richards, WWF-UK’s forest expert, said: “In 2012, the UK implemented a regulation to make sure wood products are made from legally logged timber. It is astonishing that charcoal falls outside of this regulation. The UK is importing large quantities from countries with a high risk of illegality and high rates of deforestation. At WWF, we are applying pressure to retailers and rule-makers alike through our Save Forests campaign to close this legal loophole.
“Retailers need to play their part in changing the charcoal market, and clearly consumers expect them to do so. Shops, petrol stations, garden centres and others that sell barbecue charcoal must make sure they are getting their charcoal from sustainable managed sources. They can help their customers to buy sustainably by refusing to offer unsustainable alternatives.”
WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive. Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,252 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 29th and 30th September 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
In addition to the results listed in the above, 3 per cent thought charcoal was made from volcanic rock, 8 per cent didn’t know what it was made from, and 1 per cent thought it was made from mineral oil.
Facts about charcoal
The UK is the third largest importer in Europe of Charcoal (Data from Eurostat - EU trade since 1988 by CN8 [DS-016890])
2014 Value (Euro)
2013 Value (Euro)
2012 Value (Euro)
The UK is the third largest market (by value) in the EU for imported charcoal after France and Germany.
A considerable volume of charcoal imported into the EU is from tropical and sub-tropical countries.
The UK is the third largest imported of charcoal (by volume) from tropical and subtropical countries (after Germany and Belgium).
The largest country in terms of volume supplying the UK in 2014 is Namibia followed by South Africa (14%), Paraguay (12%), Nigeria (9%) and China (8%). Namibia has a high rate of deforestation and there are trade links between South Africa, Namibia and Zambia which also has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world
EU production & Consumption of charcoal
The UK consumes over 60,000 tonnes of charcoal per annum Overall the EU consumes over 700,000 tonnes of charcoal per annum.
UK production of charcoal is fairly static at around 5,000 tonnes per annum, which is 7.6% of the UK’s apparent consumption of charcoal in 2014. The UK therefore imports 93.4% of its charcoal, making the UK the second biggest importer by volume in the EU.
Charcoal has been made by various methods. The traditional method in Britain used a clamp. This is essentially a pile of wooden logs (e.g. seasoned oak) leaning against a chimney (logs are placed in a circle). The chimney consists of 4 wooden stakes held up by some rope. The logs are completely covered with soil and straw allowing no air to enter. It must be lit by introducing some burning fuel into the chimney; the logs burn very slowly and transform into charcoal in a period of around 5 days burning. If the soil covering gets torn (cracked) by the fire, additional soil is placed on the cracks. Once the burn is complete, the chimney is plugged to prevent air from entering. A strong disadvantage of this production method is the huge amount of emissions that are harmful to human health and the environment (emissions of unburnt methane). As a result of the partial combustion of wood material, the efficiency of the traditional method is low.
Commercial charcoal is found in either lump, briquette, or extruded forms:
- Lump charcoal is made directly from hardwood material and usually produces far less ash than briquettes.
- Pillow shaped briquettes are made by compressing charcoal, typically made from sawdust and other wood by-products, with a binder and other additives. The binder is usually starch. Some briquettes may also include brown coal (heat source), mineral carbon (heat source), borax, sodium nitrate (ignition aid), limestone (ash-whitening agent), raw sawdust (ignition aid), and other additives.
- Hexagonal sawdust briquette charcoals are made by compressing sawdust without binders or additives. Hexagonal Sawdust Briquette Charcoal is the preferred charcoal in countries such as Taiwan, Korea, Middle East, Greece. It has a round hole through the centre, with a hexagonal intersection. Mainly for barbeque uses as it does not emit odour, no smoke, little ash, high heat, and long burning time in use (exceeding 4 hours).
- Extruded charcoal is made by extruding either raw ground wood or carbonized wood into logs without the use of a binder. The heat and pressure of the extruding process hold the charcoal together. If the extrusion is made from raw wood material, the extruded logs are then subsequently carbonized.