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Burning Fly-tip Waste | Driving Behavioural Change in the Community

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

Driving Home from the Weekend

It was a Sunday afternoon in February, and I was driving back to Leicester after spending the weekend back in my hometown. I often travel with a mobile Zephyr® air quality sensor to help understand and test our customer use cases which is essential for continuous product development.

My young daughter also enjoys taking the Zephyr® sensor out and about for walks over the weekend as she’s fascinated with the maps we generate afterwards, and it gives me an opportunity to educate her on the importance of air quality!

Poor Visibility

As I was travelling along the A47 through a small town outside of Leicester, I noticed smoke was gradually reducing my visibility, mostly limited to around 20 metres suggesting a small fire. I found that the smoke was coming from behind a car park set behind a building on the main road.

Burning waste from fly-tipping

Burning Waste

With the Zephyr® in tow, I was surprised to find a large collection of chipboard and polystyrene was being burned in the car park with two gentlemen watching over the fire. On asking why they were burning this waste, I learned that the building owner had become increasingly frustrated with local people fly-tipping what was mainly old furniture in his car park. He expressed that he didn’t know what to do about the situation and had even installed CCTV as a deterrent.

I informed them that Leicester was a smoke free zone and therefore they should put the fire out immediately. I explained a little more about EarthSense and why we do what we do and briefly discussed with him the health consequences of breathing smoke from wood burning, polystyrene and plastic more generally.

Unexpectedly the gentleman was quite sympathetic and didn’t have issues in telling his colleague to fetch buckets of water to put the fire out. They were both genuinely unaware of the health implications of poor air quality until now.  

The Zephyr® Sensor Illustrated the Damage

Using the mobile Zephyr® sensor I was able to see the air quality data captured during our chat and review my level of exposure to fine particle pollution – ‘particulate matter’ [PM].

The World Health Organisation [WHO] recommends that fine particle pollution such as PM2.5 must not exceed 25 µg/m3 as a 24-hour mean. We can see that during my 10-15-minute exposure in the car park, PM levels were drastically elevated to harmless levels from the burning of domestic waste. This is a concern for the local residents who would have been exposed to increased levels of air pollution for a longer period time. Had we had a Zephyr® unit in the local area for the day we could expect to see a clear breach in the WHO 24-hour guideline limits.

Taking the Next Steps Toward Change

The gentleman was unaware of the effects of air pollution and just how much his actions can impact the environment and human health. Educating the general public and raising awareness of the health impacts of air pollution are key to driving behavioural change more widely.

Acknowledging the impacts, he agreed to action the local council to remove the fly-tipped waste instead of looking for short-term and damaging options such as burning - a step (albeit small) in the right direction to drive behavioural change towards air pollution.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Zephyr® sensor and how it can be used to identify pollution hotspots and trends in your area, contact us today.

Email us at or call 0116 796 7460 and one of our air quality experts will be happy to help!

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