Firewood consumption in Australia

Are you burning their homes to warm yours? An Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts web site about firewood harvesting

How much do Australians burn?

According to the most up to date report (Driscoll et al. 2000), Australians burn between 4.5 and 5.5 million tonnes of firewood domestically each year. When industrial use is added to this it jumps to 6-7 million tonnes. This occurs predominantly in the cooler south-east of the country with over half consumed in New South Wales and Victoria.

Two thirds of the firewood consumed is burned in regional Australia, reflecting the limited availability of alternative sources of heating, such as natural gas. For firewood-using households, the average amount of firewood consumed per household is 3 tonnes. This varies nationally: from Queensland with 1.3 tonnes per year to Tasmania where 5.8 tonnes per year is burned. Between 1988 and 2000 total firewood consumption increased slightly, but decreased in Victoria, Queensland, and the ACT.

Where does this firewood come from?

According to Driscoll et al. (2000) most firewood (84%) for private use or sale is collected from private property; 9.5 per cent comes from State forests; with 3% collected from roadsides, and 3.8% from other sources.

Approximately half of all firewood used is collected in the forest by the consumer and half is purchased. Of the firewood that is purchased, most (60%) is purchased from small scale, itinerant suppliers rather than established wood merchants who provide only 24% of the market. The rest of the purchased market is purchased from friends, sawmills and joiners.

Of the firewood that is collected, 52% is collected by people off their own land, while 32% is collected from someone else's land. The combination of a high proportion of firewood collected from private land and the high proportion being taken by individuals and small time operators makes the firewood industry very difficult to regulate. Therefore changes in people's perceptions and behaviour about using firewood are critical to establishing a sustainable firewood industry. This is where you can help!.

Firewood comes from a range of ecological communities throughout Australia, which can be summarised as coastal forests, inland forests or, riverine forests and woodlands. Coastal and inland forests are the most important sources of firewood in Western Australia and Tasmania. In Victoria and South Australia riverine forests are the most important source of firewood, while in New South Wales and the ACT woodlands are the most important source of firewood. Overall, most (72%) firewood is sourced from the drier regions of south-eastern and south-western Australia.

Overall, river red gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis is the most heavily harvested species in Australia followed by jarrah Eucalyptus marginata and species of 'box' E. melliodora , E. polyanthemos, and E. albens.

Smoke haze over Canberra in winter. Photo ACT EPA

Smoke haze over Canberra in winter.
ACT Environment Protection Authority