The Co-op has ignored pleas by the London Fire Brigade to ban the sale of disposable barbecues, following a huge raft of grass fires during the recent heatwave.
The LFB had its busiest day since the Second World War last month, with more than 2,600 call outs, with 16 firefighters injured when tackling a destructive blaze in Wennington, Havering.
Two fires were caused by disposable barbecues in a matter of days in Wanstead Flats, and since then the LFB has been calling out supermarkets for failing to back a nationwide ban on disposable barbecues.
The recent heatwave has increased the risk of blazes by making grassy areas “like a tinderbox”, the brigade said.
The LFB urged the UK’s main shopping retailers to put an end to “reckless and careless” behaviour by removing instant barbecues from its shelves.
In recent days the brigade has outed supermarkets by directly tweeting them, including Tesco, Asda and Co-op.
“Are cheap deals on disposable barbecues the reason ‘mums go to Iceland’?” one LFB tweet read.
Besides Marks and Spencer, Aldi and Waitrose, who have ditched their use over environmental concerns, other supermarkets have refused to stop selling instant barbecues.
The British Retail Consortium has sided with supermarkets, while the National Fire Chiefs Council says an outright ban could actually increase the number of dangerous “makeshift” versions.
‘They don’t cause a major fire risk’
Co-op said it was reinforcing the message that barbecues need to be used responsibly, rather than take them off the shelves.
A spokesperson for the supermarket said: “From 2021, we stopped selling instant BBQs in our stores situated in, and within a one-mile radius, of a national park.
“Alongside this, our ‘Put Me Out’ campaign features prominently on instant BBQ packaging and on signage in the stores, to remind consumers to extinguish with water and dispose of instant BBQs safely.”
The LFB said it appreciated Co-op’s efforts to restrict sales and increase awareness, but that ultimately the measures didn’t go far enough.
“Despite our continued warnings about how easily grass fires can start, we are still seeing reckless behaviour and dangerous use of disposable barbecues and so we would like to see a national ban on the sale of them,” a spokesperson said.
“We don’t want to spoil people’s fun – but we need action for the sake of our green spaces and due to the dangers disposable barbecues pose generally.”
The National Fire Chiefs Council, which supported Co-op’s campaign, said a ban could lead to even greater safety concerns.
Its wildfire lead Paul Hedley said: “NFCC is not calling for a ban of instant/disposable barbecues as it could encourage people to use makeshift ones, which can be unpredictable.
“We want people to be able to enjoy barbecues and urge everyone to use them responsibly. Many people use them at home safely."
Mr Hedley said, however, that the “worrying trend” in wildfires caused by barbecues “cannot be ignored”.
He said people must adhere to rules in particular places where they may be banned – for instance in parks – but that if used correctly instant barbecues “do not cause a major fire risk”.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, added: “Disposable barbecues provide a great way for people to enjoy the summer outdoors.
“However, it is extremely important that users realise that these must be used responsibly, following the on-pack instructions and ensuring that they dispose of them correctly.”
‘We need urgent action now’
Despite its failure to win over major retailers, LFB is still reiterating its call for a nationwide ban – highlighting the risk to public safety.
During the recent heatwave, on the week beginning 18 July, the brigade attended 3,231 incidents, and 34 grass fires required at least four fire engines.
LFB’s commissioner Andy Roe said: “We need urgent action now to see a national ban on the sale of disposable barbecues.
“They can be bought for as little as five pounds and can cause untold damage, especially when the grass is as dry as it has been over the last few weeks."
The LFB has urged members of the public to not have barbecues in parks or on balconies, or to drop cigarettes where they might catch fire.
The brigade is supporting a petition – currently on 17,000 signatures – to permanently ban disposable barbecues.
It was set up by Toby Tyler, whose son Will was badly burned by an instant barbecue.
Tesco, Iceland and Asda did not respond to requests for comment.