Burning Waste

Burning Waste is Illegal - The New Legislation

New legislation explicitly outlaws the practice of burning waste. The Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) Regulations 2009 (S.I. No 286 of 2009) came into effect on 27th July 2009.

The purpose of these regulations is to make it clearly an offence to dispose of waste by uncontrolled or unregulated burning. Any kind of waste burners are now also outlawed unless under a permit or license.
Specific provisions are made for agricultural burning. Local Authorities will now be better able to take action against offenders under both the Waste Management and Air Pollution legislation.

It is now explicitly illegal to burn waste by uncontrolled or unregulated burning. The Regulations state that waste shall not be disposed of by burning unless it is done under the regulations for Facility Permits for waste.

  • It is illegal to burn household waste in a building or anywhere on the property or garden.
  • It is illegal to use waste burners or any other type of container or devise to burn waste including stoves and incinerators designed to burn waste.
  • It is illegal to burn waste even if it is done in a devise with a chimney, stack or flue.

What is illegal burning of waste?

Under the regulations burning means the combustion of waste whether it is done inside a building or outside. Waste burners and other devices, whether designed primarily for the disposal of waste by burning or otherwise, and whether or not they are fitted with or attached to a stack, chimney or flue, shall not be used for waste disposal. This includes the use of ‘home incinerators’ and stoves.

Many people in Ireland burn waste on their own property. The materials burned are varied and include paper, cardboard, plastic, timber, food, garden clippings and grass. This 'backyard burning' is mistakenly seen as a cheap way of getting rid of waste and many people presume that it is not harmful to the environment or to themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The term Backyard Burning has been applied to the uncontrolled burning of waste. Such burning is frequently carried out in backyards and in gardens, but the term also refers to the burning of any waste in open fires, ranges and other solid fuel appliances or in the open. It includes the burning of waste on sites by builders or on any commercial or industrial site. It also includes the use of home incinerators or burn barrels.

What is the harm in burning waste?

Practically all uncontrolled burning of waste releases toxic pollutants directly into the air without treatment or filtering of any sort. This is now one of the major sources of some pollutants impacting on air quality in Ireland.

The main problem with any form of 'do it yourself' incineration or backyard burning is that it is rarely carried out at temperatures high enough to destroy toxic substances. They receive very little oxygen and produce a lot of smoke. Under these conditions a great many toxic substances are produced. Virtually all of the pollutants are released into the air close to ground level where they are easily inhaled. Under calm weather conditions toxins released from this type of burning can remain at dangerous levels near the ground for a long time, causing high amounts of contamination near the source.

Why is this different from burning waste in large scale licensed incinerators?

There is no comparison between uncontrolled, low temperature burning of waste and the controlled and regulated high temperature conditions under which licensed incinerators operate. The dioxins released from the uncontrolled burning of one tonne of household waste (the average level of annual waste per household in Ireland) are 55 times greater than the dioxins emitted if the same tonne of waste was treated in a modern municipal incinerator.

Uncontrolled low temperature burning of waste occurs at about 200 - 400 celcius, the temperature range that dioxins are formed! All pollutants are then released directly into the atmosphere with no treatment or filtering. 73% of dioxins released into the Irish atmosphere at present are as a result of uncontrolled low temperature burning, with a further 11% from accidental building fires. This makes backyard burning the single biggest source of dioxins (many of which cause cancer) released into the Irish environment.

There is no type of waste that is safe to burn at low temperatures, including paper, wood and garden waste. The real solution is to manage our waste by Reducing, Reusing and Recycling.

Some of the pollutants that can be generated by low temperature uncontrolled burning are:

  • Dioxins and Furans—Dioxins become a persistent pollutant in the environment for many years - they enter the environment or the body and persist because of their chemical stability and may accumulate in fat tissue in animals and humans. Some dioxins are known to cause cancer and a variety of illnesses including skin lesions and birth defects.
  • Carbon monoxide - small amounts may cause headaches and nausea
  • Styrene -The burning of polystyrene - such as foam cups, meat trays, egg containers, yogurt and deli containers - releases styrene. Styrene gas can readily be absorbed through the skin and lungs. At high levels styrene vapour can damage the eyes and mucous membranes. Long term exposure to styrene can affect the central nervous system, causing headaches, fatigue, weakness, and depression.
  • Microscopic particles that can get deep into the lungs leading to asthma, bronchitis and heart problems. These are particularly dangerous to people who already have respiratory or cardiac disease.
  • Ash from burning may contain mercury, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals, which are toxic to animals and humans, causing heart, kidney and brain damage. They may also accumulate in vegetables grown in soil where the ash has fallen and they can then be passed onto humans when eaten.

What are the special regulations for Farm Waste?

Under the new regulations farmers are required to follow a specified waste hierarchy only permitting the burning of uncontaminated wood, trees, tree trimmings, leaves, brush or other similar wastes generated by agricultural practices as a last resort.

The agricultural exemption applies until 1st January 2014. Farmers who feel that they have no alternative to burning waste must notify the local authority in advance of their intention to carry out the disposal & provide information under the regulations. (Forms are available from Wicklow County Council or from this website by clicking the link below.) After 2014 farmers will have to apply for a Certificate of Registration under the Facility Permit Regulations.

The following steps should first be taken to manage agricultural wastes:

  • waste arisings should be reduced in accordance with best agricultural practice
  • waste should be reused where possible
  • waste should be recycled through shredding and used as compost or wood chippings
  • wastes should be salvaged for use a fuel where practicable

The purpose of these new regulations is to abolish the practice of burning waste. It will be illegal to burn waste under the Waste Management Acts 1996 - 2008 and the Air Pollution Act 1987. An exemption has been made for farmers only as a last resort to burn wastes generated by agricultural practices. The Environmental Protection Agency has highlighted in recent years the necessity to combat this persistent and dangerous practice.

Manage your waste properly

  • Reduce: Avoid disposable items. Buy products in bulk or economy size instead of individually wrapped. Buy durable, repairable goods that can be recharged, reused or refilled.
  • Reuse: Donate unwanted clothing, furniture, toys to friends, relatives and charities. Mend or repair rather than throw away.
  • Recycle: Make sure you recycle and buy only containers you know are recyclable.
  • Compost: Contact Wicklow County Council about buying a home composter to recycle your garden waste as well as certain types of kitchen waste.

Wicklow County Council has five recycling centres. You can dramatically reduce the volume of your waste that needs disposal by using a facility like these. Contact us for a list of permitted collectors before you give anybody your residual waste for disposal.

Regulations Online