TFT publishes 2018 analysis of UK charcoal market

Study concludes shoppers can demand better

TFT has analysed bags of charcoal on sale in UK retail stores this year to help discover their origin. Today we are pleased to share our findings, which show there is still a long way to go for the UK to achieve a transparent charcoal industry.  We found that just 50% of bags bought in the UK this year declare the origin of the wood used to make the charcoal, revealing a high level of opacity in the UK market.  Of those that did not state any origin, almost all were from tropical regions. Not knowing the exact country or region of production increases the risk of having charcoal linked with degradation of ecosystems or bad social practices.

In May this year, just as barbecue season was getting underway, TFT bought bags of charcoal from 18 different outlets, including leading supermarkets, DIY stores, discount retailers and garden centres. We then put the bags and their contents through our methodology, which studies the apparent density of the charcoal, its real density and its visual characteristics, such as growth rings and wood rays.

The UK relies heavily on imported charcoal, because it produces around just 5,000 tonnes domestically per year. According to UN Comtrade, the UK imported 87,000 tonnes of charcoal in 2017. Our biggest source of charcoal is Namibia, which faces a number of challenges, including encroachment onto environmentally important land and the harvesting of protected species, as well as issues with child labour and pollution from inefficient kilns used to turn wood into charcoal.

We also carried out a bag analysis of the UK market in 2017. How do our 2018 findings compare?  Well, 2018’s bags contain a higher amount of charcoal from tropical regions, which are often linked with deforestation and poor working practices. There is also a higher amount of charcoal this year carrying an FSC logo on the bag – up 20% to 81% of all the charcoal we studied this year. Over the years, TFT has detected some fraud within bags carrying certification logos, and it is interesting to see that in 2018, of the FSC bags we found, just 50% declare the origin of the wood.

“At the moment, when just one in two bags state where the charcoal is from, it’s very hard for consumers to make informed buying decisions,” says Pierre-Olivier Watrin, programme manager for charcoal at TFT. “But we believe asking for transparency will help transform the charcoal market and help retailers really tackle the issues within their supply chains. Consumers have the power to change things.”

Pierre-Olivier continues: “When TFT first started looking into charcoal supply chains in 2012, no one was really interested in the issue. But having presented the facts to retailers, first in France, then Germany and now the UK, we are really starting to see an appetite for change, with a number of retailers already working to address their supply issues and make sure they can say their charcoal is responsibly sourced.”

Charcoal does not currently fall within the scope of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), set up to minimise the risk of illegal products on the EU market. TFT recommends that charcoal is included.

Click here to read our UK market bag analysis, which also gives an overview of the journey so far and details our methodology.

TFT can provide retailers with individual reports relating to their own supply for 2018. For more information please contact Mike Craft at TFT UK on +44 (0)2380 111220 or info@tft-earth.org