Supermarkets ignore campaign's plea to stop sale of disposable barbecues

A campaign group set up to stop the sale of disposable barbecues has seen its approaches to major supermarket chains rebuffed.

By Grace Newton
Tuesday, 16th June 2020, 1:09 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th June 2020, 4:02 pm

Around 2,500 members have already joined the Leave the BBQ at Home pressure group since it was launched by Peak District resident Tony McCartney earlier this month.

Tony has already seen the damage wreaked by disposable barbecues near his home in Hathersage, where they have been responsible for several moorland fires.

In Yorkshire, there have been fires at two reservoirs, Cod Beck near Northallerton and Digley near Holmfirth, caused by single-use barbecues during lockdown. Fire crews have complained of having to extinguish several more unattended barbecues abandoned at beauty spots in both the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks.

A wildfire on Ilkley Moor over Easter 2019

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Tony, his wife Vicki and their daughter Lauren, the eldest of their five children, have been 'bombarding' the major supermarket chains with pleas for them to stop selling disposable barbecues - but have received few responses.

After a fire at Bamford Edge, close to the McCartneys' home, in early June which took several days to dampen down, the Peak District National Park Authority asked local retailers within the Park boundary to take disposable barbecues off their shelves. Two Spar convenience stores complied, as did several Co-op branches and, further afield, Go Outdoors in Sheffield.

However, it is more difficult to persuade large chains to stop stocking them, and many visitors purchase them before entering the countryside.

Tony also believes that their use has increased during lockdown, when more groups of young people are heading to rural areas to drink and relax while pubs and bars are shut.

"It's standard now every summer - it's been getting worse for years, the number of fires has been on the increase. On most occasions now the cause is either wild camping or disposable barbecues. They're not the only reasons - they can start because of discarded cigarette ends or plastic bottles - but most are to do with barbecues and campfires.

"We are fighting for corporate responses but the supermarkets just don't seem to be interested. We have been bombarding their CEOs, but the larger chains have given the worst responses. I got a polite reply from the Co-op but that's about it.

"It's not just supermarkets - we are also targeting Poundland, Poundstretcher and DIY stores. We need to keep up the pressure."

Tony also believes that while some have called for the laws to be changed to ban the manufacture of the barbecues, in reality this would be a time-consuming and complex process and would be difficult to enforce. Their use is already prohibited within National Parks and by-laws are in place in public parks that ban them.

"I just think it is easier to ask stores to voluntarily cut off the supply. I have seen petitions calling for them to be outlawed, and I think the biggest had 35,000 signatures, which is still a way off the 100,000 needed to change the law. Legislation takes a long time to go through and how do we enforce it? It would be difficult to police."

The McCartneys have also spoken to supermarket staff who told them that disposable barbecues are seen as a 'gateway' product - meaning that although their sale does not generate large profits in itself, they can be displayed alongside more lucrative associated items such as beer, wine and meat.

"We were told that they drive the sale of alcohol - each sale is worth around £20 in total.

"Supermarkets also hide behind the safety instructions on the packaging. But there's a world of difference between 'safety' for the user and 'getting everything right' when they pose such a risk to the environment. They leave behind an ugly mess, with the damage to picnic tables and scorched grass. They are very much part of 'single-use' culture."

Some of the disposable barbecues retail for as little as £2.50.

"The best part of all this is that the Hope Valley is now disposable barbecue-free. All retailers have voluntarily removed them from sale in our area. Go Outdoors in Sheffield have also removed them, as have several local branches of Co-op. Further afield, Budgens in Hampshire and Essex have also removed them.

"However, the battle has only just begun. We are now talking the campaign national and have members from as far afield as Dorset and Edinburgh furiously emailing and tweeting retailers, manufacturers, MPs, councillors and campsites warning them of the dangers and asking for their support.

"These items don’t just cause large fires. There are so many things wrong with them. The scars they leave behind on grassland, in parks, on picnic benches are an ugly scourge on our landscape. The injuries they cause when buried in the sand on beaches. The habitats they destroy.

"Retailers are hiding behind this idea that because they place warnings on these things, that they are somehow absolved of any responsibility for them. Trying to place the blame on individuals. These things are a danger. There is no ‘safe’ way to use them."

Both Asda and Morrisons, which have their head offices in Yorkshire, were contacted by the Yorkshire Post and asked if they would consider removing disposable barbecues from their stores. Neither responded to our request for comment.

However, Asda this week announced that they are removing plastic forks from salad and protein boxes as part of the company's ongoing pledge to reduce plastic waste.