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Why We Should Avoid Backyard Trash Burning

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The nature of household trash has changed over the past fifty years…

By Posted Jun 9, 2011

Homeowners may feel that they’re doing the right thing by burning their waste to keep it out of local landfills, but they are doing quite the opposite. The smoke from backyard trash fires, even those which are contained in burn barrels, has the potential to have far reaching health consequences for the person doing the burning, and for nearby neighbours. Local wildlife, vegetation, and food gardens may also be negatively impacted by the pollutants from even small backyard trash fires.

The nature of household trash has changed over the past fifty years. Today, bleached paper, plastic packaging or plastic products, and printed materials with glues, plastic coatings and coloured inks make up a large portion of society’s waste. When these items are burned in low temperature fires like those that take place in a backyard burn barrel, very high levels of toxic chemicals and fine particulate matter are released with the smoke. Many of these toxins don’t readily break down, leading to accumulation and persistence in the environment.

A recent study by the Swedish Environmental Protection Administration, “Chlorine-containing plastic waste gave rise to high emissions”, finds PVC plastic (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) to be major source of dioxin in home burning.

The most common chlorine-containing waste is PVC found in so-called blister-packs. In the US, another common type of chlorine-containing plastic waste is PVDC (polyvinylidene chloride) or the original Saran Wrap commonly used to wrap foods. PVC is also found in other disposable items and packaging, often disguised as a layer in multi-layer plastics. The Swedish study looked at burning trash in home wood stoves and boilers, but applies to outdoor burning as well.

For some Americans who eat a lot of animal fat or fish, the risk is 1 in 100. These risks are 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the government’s “benchmark” levels for “acceptable” risk

Open burning of trash is the dominant source of dioxins in the US. According to the EPA’s Dioxin Reassessment report, dioxin levels in the average American present as much as a 1 in 1000 risk of cancer. For some Americans who eat a lot of animal fat or fish, the risk is 1 in 100. These risks are 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the government’s “benchmark” levels for “acceptable” risk.

Milk cartons, painted and impregnated wood, printed matter and plastics are rubbish which belong in the waste bin – not in outdoor trash fires.

Smoke from burn barrels is far from just a ‘nuisance’ for your neighbours. The compounds in the smoke that comes from trash burning can cause respiratory problems and many other health issues for people who are exposed to it. One of the worst things about backyard burning is that the toxic smoke is released at ground-level in our own back yards – right where people live and breathe.

The New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation identified ‘open burning’ as the number 1 priority for preventing pollution amongst 62 pollution sources examined by New York State. NY DEC Comparative Risks Project Final Report.

So please think about the health of your neighbors, children and the environment before you consider burning your garbage. Municipal garbage disposal services are better prepared to handle and dispose of household waste. Modern high-efficiency incinerators, for example, are far more effective at reducing the volume of toxins entering the environment.

Reduce, reuse, recycle as much as possible and use your barrels to collect rain water instead of garbage.

Posted in Healthy Home Tags , , , ,
  • Adeel Abbas

    people have no idea how harmful it can be, its the only thing making this world hotter.

  • I’ve said this to my neighbours for years, yet they still continue.

  • well, Thnx for the tip but i dont agree with you indeed my neighbour burns garbage at my neighbour hood and it has helped their trees to grow more any suggestion ?

    • Matt Williams

      IT does not help tress to grow, and who cares it stops Humans from Growing.. Burning releases Stored Carbon “BAD” and Releases Toxins in the AIR you and your Family and your pets breathe it and so do I .. You Air is MY Air TO! WAKE UP

  • Robert

    The smoke from the Arizona fire is hitting the southwest.

  • Glass Whiteboard

    Yeah seems like common sense to me… Fires = bad things. Lets try not to do silly spontaneous things guys!

  • Let's try to avoid burning of any sort because it causes Global warming. I'll suggest will bury our debris.

  • Jon

    In alot of areas burning yard clippings is very popular. Composting would be more popular if more of the home centers advertised it.

  • air cargo

    I don’t think so burning trash is the right way of dealing with the trash. The most effective way is to separate the different types of trash and try to make use of them. Like use the organic to produce some gas that can be used for cooking or for other purposes and the remaining can be used as organic fertilizer for your garden. The rest of the trash like plastic, paper, metal and glass can also be sold to those who want it to recycle it to make new ones. So burning trash in any where isn’t a good idea.

  • Alex

    This is illegal in the UK, cant believe people do this in the USA!

    • It’s illegal in UK so your government can drain every penny from your garbage. Yes garbage is a billion dollar industry that GAINS profit. burning your own garbage and recycling properly is our rights. Remember if you let corporation control your mind, you are a slave.

  • Marnie Castro

    Smokes are really dangerous to our health. I agree that it can really cause respiratory problems. A person who burn plastics or trash in the backyard thinks that after burning it, his or her problem will be solved. But what about the neighbors who can smell the smoke which surrounds the place? Another problem then will be needed to be solved.

  • Very effective blog for me. You are saying right that we should not burn the garbage in our homes. It extremely damages the health and also disturbs the atmosphere.

  • Oil CVs

    Open burning produces smoke, which is made up of fine particles. When inhaled, fine particles can accumulate in the respiratory system causing various respiratory problems including persistent coughs, wheezing and physical discomfort. I hope everybody realize the negative effect of open burning, not only in our health but to the environment as well.

  • wood burning stoves

    I couldn't agree with you more. Backyard burning is viewed by some as a low-cost, convenient solution for dealing with household waste.. What they failed to realize though is it is also highly polluting. According to research, a pound of waste burned domestically emits up to 10,000 times the pollutants emitted from burning the same pound of waste in an EPA-compliant municipal waste combustor.

    • B.S. you are indoctrinated. Carbon is released and is utilized by all plants to create CO2. The pollutants you speak of are the chemicals they induct into products like plastics. Plastics should be taken care of carefully. Easy thing when you have understanding of the truth. Why are you buying plastic crap anyways? Alot to be desired with peoples logic today – everyone is scared sheeple. According to “whos’ research? Have you done the hard data crunching? No either did the industry that funded research to hand you – the research is to coordinate a logical fence around you so you have no f-in clue what is going on .

  • I think your efforts are commendable. Any burning has an environmental impact, but your practices go a long way to minimize this.
    By the way, the items you are burning are compostable – we keep a separate compost bin for this type of material. But at times it gets to be too much and, like you, a small clean fire is needed..
    I appreciate the efforts and consideration you put towards this.

  • Most people burning understand what and why they burn. Most people in the country where I live, (rural) compost , recycle, burn and also add to garabage collection. It’s multifacet. But we are trained to live in ignorance and fear and the fact people are buying plastic garbage is the bigger problem than people ‘burning’ their own trash. Why is that not being focused on.

    • Iamnot dumb

      goatstaog — you are about as ignorant as it gets!
      YOU ARE WRONG… most people have NO CLUE, ZERO!
      ..and Tammy who thinks she is doing OK, burns fckng CARDBOARD! LOL she needs to go work in a pulp plant!!!
      …and that is why ALL burning should be banned, period!
      It is ok to understand the Sheople sheeple realm of enslaving, but that one my friend IS NOT in that bucket.
      The damage backyard fires create is the worst in world pollution…

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