Natural disaster in our fireplaces

Household waste burning causes millions of violations of law and takes thousands of lives every year in Hungary. Still, hundreds of thousands of people do this every day. The tragic consequences of residential waste burning are well known facts among experts, and it is possible for the government to take action against it. However, real actions have not been made for years. In the meantime, the European Commission started infringement proceedings against Hungary because of the higher than allowed air pollution. Therefore, today the Clean Air Action Group (CAAG) and Greenpeace handed over a 6-point proposal for János Lázár, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The most harmful air pollutants are fine particles (PM2.5), and their major source is household waste burning. It is shocking how many things disappear in the fireplaces: plastic waste, baled clothes, shoe soles and car tires, among others. There are regions in the country, where residents burn one third (!) of all communal waste. [1]

According to an EEA report from November 2015, 12,800 people die prematurely in Hungary every year just because of PM2.5 pollution. [2] But this is only the tip of the iceberg, as the number of diseases caused by air pollution is two to three orders of magnitude higher than the number of deaths. The chemical cocktails polluting the air from these sources can cause, among others, cardiovascular diseases, malignant tumours, and developmental disorders in fetuses and children. PM2.5 carries more risk for children since their immune system is less developed. PM2.5 pollution also seriously affects the elderly, lung and heart patients. It has been known for a long time that if some of these particles get into the human body around the time of birth, they could cause irreversible diseases in adulthood. In our country, the main source of particle pollution is the household heating.

According to a study published in April 2015 by WHO, deaths caused by air pollution expressed in monetary costs can reach 19 percent of Hungary’s GDP. [3] This is mostly due to particulate pollution. [4]

The EU infringement proceeding against Hungary can result in a penalty of tens of billions in HUF.

The cause of the illegal waste burning is mostly the lack of knowledge and irresponsibility. According to complaints received by the Clean Air Action Group, around two-thirds of the illegal burnings are due to these two factors, while poverty plays a lesser role. However, even poverty cannot be a valid reason to commit acts violating the Criminal Code. Allowing illegal behaviour for those in need is unacceptable; their problems should be eased with social aid. Moreover, the latter involves a much lower cost for the society.

Another major issue is the indulgent behaviour of the authorities. District offices barely start any administrative procedures, even though according to the Air Protection Decree this is their obligatory task. Even fewer times does the police get involved, although they could help the district offices, they could even start criminal investigations, since burning waste without permission in severe cases can constitute a crime (Criminal Code, 248. §). Therefore, today the CAAG and Greenpeace turned to the Minister of the Prime Minister’s office, János Lázár asking for decisive action in the matter. To solve this issue, the two organizations provided a 6-point proposal.

A solution package in 6 points:

The Hungarian government accepted an action plan in October 2011 to decrease PM10 pollution. [5] In order to improve the health residents and increase the competitiveness of our economy, the implementation of the program regarding residential heating and burning has to be sped up. The implementation of the program demands all out government action, therefore the CAAG and Greenpeace asks the government to do the following:

  1. INFORMATION: Provide more money for awareness campaigns about the negative impacts of household burnings, their environmental and economic impacts, legal aspects, and possible practical solutions. Currently, in the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture there are 10 million HUF for this purpose which is completely inadequate. At least 3 billion HUF per year should be spent on these campaigns.
  2. ENPOWERING THE AUTHORITIES: Contribute with training and effective internal control to the public authorities (district offices, police, environmental protection departments of government agencies) in order for them to be able to take decisive action against every case of illegal household burning, while staying compliant with regulations.
  3. EFFECTIVE SANCTIONS: In all authority procedures started because of illegal waste burning - in case the perpetrator does not confess it -, investigations lead by judicial experts should take place. Applying this can clearly demonstrate whether any offense has occurred, the procedural fee could be charged to the perpetrator and could be collected the way taxes are collected. In our experience, currently this kind of procedure is not initiated by the authorities, and the fee of the judicial expert is to be paid by the complainant in advance, which he/she is not willing to pay. Thus, in almost all cases, in the absence of proof, the perpetrators are exempted from the crime. This means of procedure is mandatory for the authorities based on the government regulation 306/2010, so initially the cost should be paid by the authorities. In our experience, 95 % of the complaints are based on real facts, but the processes do not reach the point to prove the illegal burning.
  4. BANNING THE SALE OF LIGNITE FOR HOUSEHOLDS: Selling lignite for residential burning should be banned immediately, because burning lignite in households - though currently not prohibited - is also highly polluting and has spread significantly over the last few years. [6] The Ministry of Agriculture has prepared the draft of the regulation, but it has been lying in the drawer for months. In addition, according to the draft, the ban would only take effect 18 months after publishing the regulation. This means that - also considering the previously made purchases - this highly polluting and inefficient fuel source would be in wide use in households for at least 3 more years.
  5. BANNING THE SALE OF WET WOOD: Selling or free allocation of wet wood (more than 20 % moisture content) to residents should be banned immediately. Burning wet wood can cause much more damage to people’s health and the environment than burning dry wood.
  6. ENSURING PROPER FUEL FOR PEOPLE IN NEED: The conditions to heat within a legal framework should be ensured for people in need. It cannot be emphasized enough that this would cost much less than the damage caused by illegal burnings. At present, based on the. government decree 1503/2015 [7], the government provides 3 billion HUF for social fuel assistance. This amount should be increased three times.

[1] Lásd a HHG Nkft. által begyűjtött kommunális hulladékok havi mennyiségének ingadozását (13. oldal):

[2] Air quality in Europe, 2015 report. European Environmental Agency,

[3] Economic cost of deaths from air pollution (outdoor and indoor) per country, as a percentage of GDP, WHO European Region, 2010, 2010,
Press release: Air pollution costs European economies US$ 1.6 trillion a year in diseases and deaths, new WHO study says,$-1.6-trillion-a-year-in-diseases-and-deaths,-new-who-study-says

[4] Air quality in Europe - 2015 report, op. cit.

[5] 1330/2011. (X. 12.) Korm. határozat a kisméretű szálló por (PM10) csökkentés ágazatközi intézkedési programjáról,

[6] Lásd: Lignitárusítással az egészségünkre tör a Mátrai Erőmű,

Mikor tiltják be a lignit árusítását a lakosságnak?

[7] 1503/2015. (VII. 23.) Korm. határozat a helyi önkormányzatok szociális célú tüzelőanyag vásárláshoz kapcsolódó kiegészítő támogatása érdekében a IX. Helyi önkormányzatok támogatásai fejezeten belüli előirányzat-átcsoportosításról,