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Burning waste

Burning of waste is a broad term that covers the following scenarios:

Householders burning waste in their own yard, garden, either in an exposed pile or in a barrel

Burning of waste on building sites

Burning of electric cables for the recovery of copper and other elements

Burning of cut tree limbs, hedging, cuttings, clippings, after landscaping/gardening works

Burning of commercial and/or industrial waste

Burning of waste in open fires, ranges and other solid fuel appliances (using waste as an alternative fuel source)

Using rubbish burners that are sold in shops nationwide. These are also called 'garden/home incinerators'

Burning of waste essentially involves low temperature fires, which receive little oxygen and produce a lot of smoke. Under such conditions toxic substances are readily produced and released into the atmosphere to be subsequently inhaled by people and animals and deposited onto land and vegetation.
Burning of Waste is an illegal practice. It is an offence under the following Acts:

Waste Management Act, 1996 and 2008

Air Pollution Act, 1987

Environmental implications

Traditionally in Ireland, waste was comprised of simpler materials such as paper, wood and organic food wastes. Nowadays, with the relative increase in prosperity and standard of living, more products are being bought and consumed and therefore the amount of waste produced has increased. With new waste legislation and increased costs of disposing of waste some people look for the easier and cheaper option for dealing with their own waste. Also, with advancements in technology in the production industry, waste now comprises of more constituents than ever before, e.g. plastics, preserved woods, metals, bleached papers, slick coloured papers, etc. Burning of such wastes in low temperature uncontrolled fires will create toxic and dangerous by-products which are not destroyed by the fire but become airborne on soot particles. These can end up being inhaled or precipitate out of the air and deposit onto surrounding soil and vegetation where they can readily enter the food chain.

What happens when we burn?

Plastics containing PVC (Polyvinyl chlorides) can release carbon monoxide, dioxins and chlorinated furans when burned. Many of these are highly toxic cancer-causing substances. Some products which PVC may be present in are:

Containers for food

Cosmetics and pharmaceutical products packaging

Children’s toys

Blister and shrink wraps


Vinyl tubing etc.

Polystyrenes and styrenes: These are used in many packaging products like foam cups, fast food trays, meat trays, deli food containers, plastic forks and spoons, etc. Upon burning these emit gases which can damage eye and mucous membranes if doses are high enough.

Painted woods: If the paint is lead based (especially the older paints), burning can emit lead laden fumes which can be easily inhaled by by-standers.

Polyurethanes: Found in curtains, furniture foams, adhesives, wood finishes, and etc.

Health implications

When smoke, dust and toxic particles are inhaled they can cause a variety of effects, from sore eyes, headaches, dizziness, nausea; to the development of allergic hypersensitivity at high doses; to long term chronic effects such as bronchitis, emphysema and an increase in risk of developing cancer as a result of continuous exposure.

The Law

Burning of Waste is an offence. Waste must be collected by waste collection contractors that have a permit to do so in Kildare. It is an offence to give your waste to a collector who does not have such a permit. A register of permitted contractors is available from the Environment Section, Kildare County Council.

Waste Management Acts, 1996 and 2008

A person shall not hold, transport, recover or dispose of waste in a manner that causes or is likely to cause environmental pollution.

Air Pollution Act, 1987

There is an obligation on the occupier of any premises, other that a private dwelling (this does not include a curtilage or garden) to prevent air pollution.
The occupier of any premises shall not cause or permit an emission from such premises in such a quantity, or in such a manner as to be a nuisance.

The solution

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Avoid buying products with lots of packaging as this makes up a lot of our waste.

Choose reusable products.

Recycle as much as possible by segregating at the kitchen bin.

There are many bring banks in County Kildare, two recycling centres (Silliot Hill and Gallows Hill Waste Management Facilities) taking - newspaper, squashed plastic bottles, aluminium and steel cans, glass, cardboard, metal and batteries, waste oils and filters and white goods.

Buy a home composter from the County Council or make your own for green and garden waste and certain types of kitchen waste.

Stop Burning of Waste, Now!
Not only is burning of waste damaging to the environment, it is also an offence with heavy penalties. But above all, it is dangerous and harmful to your health.
For further information contact: Environment Section, Kildare County Council, 045-980588
Department of the Environment: www.race.ie

The burning question

But what harm is burning waste?

Uncontrolled low temperature burning of waste releases toxic pollutants directly into the air without treatment or filtering. Not only is this low temperature, uncontrolled burning of waste damaging to the environment, it is also an offence with heavy penalties. But above all, it is dangerous and harmful to your health.
Traditionally in Ireland, waste was comprised of simpler materials such as paper, wood and organic food wastes. Waste now comprises of more constituents than ever before, (e.g. plastics, preserved woods, metals, bleached papers, slick coloured papers). When these materials are burned at low temperatures, they can generate pollutants including dioxins, furans, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, hexachlorobenezene, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, microscopic particles as well as ash containing mercury, lead and arsenic. These pollutants may be associated with everything from cancer, aggravation of respiratory and heart illnesses, kidney and liver damage, bronchitis, asthma, heart attacks, and even brain damage.

So why are incinerators proposed?

There is no comparison between uncontrolled, low temperature burning of waste and the controlled and regulated high-temperature conditions under which incinerators operate. In fact, the dioxins emitted from backyard burning of one tonne of household waste are 55 times greater than the dioxins emitted if the same tonne of waste was treated in a modern municipal waste incinerator (EPA report, 2001).

A common sense approach

The purpose of all the environmental legislation is to protect the environment and prevent damage to our environment – whether damage by pollution to the air, water, soil, or wildlife. Any burning of waste that causes, or is likely to cause, pollution is likely to breach one or more of the Waste Management, Air Pollution, Water Pollution, or Wildlife Acts, and the Council can take legal action against the offender.
In seeking to inform people on the issue of burning, staff in the Environment Section of Kildare County Council are taking a common-sense approach rather than giving a strictly legalistic interpretation of the various legislation that covers different aspects of burning of waste.
Let’s look at it under a few different categories: burning of household or commercial waste, burning of household green waste, burning of vegetation by landowners and finally, the issue of informing the Fire Authority.
If you are burning household waste, whether outside in a barrel/rubbish burner, or throwing it into an open fire, range and other solid fuel appliance, it is illegal and you must stop. Equally, the same applies to the burning of waste from commercial and industrial businesses including building sites and farms. Burning of electric cables for the recovery of copper and other elements is also illegal.
It is not acceptable for householders to burn their garden waste (e.g. burning of cut tree limbs, hedging, cuttings, clippings, after landscaping/gardening works). People could invest in garden shredders and use this material as mulch, or mix with compost.
Burning of vegetation by landowners for the purpose of managing grazing lands (e.g. heath) is a long-established practice. It is generally acceptable as long as it is done in a careful manner and observing the relevant guidelines. However, it is not automatically exempt from the law. If it gives rise to pollution, it may be the subject of legal action by the Council. If it breaches wildlife protection laws, it may be the subject of legal action by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Where farmers are burning scrub/vegetation, they must in all cases inform the fire service at least one day before burning, giving the location, time and duration of burning. The Fire Service has given guidance on "Precautions to be taken when burning gorse, heather and grass" (see Farming and the environment section).
It is illegal to burn any vegetation between 1st March and 31st August (bird nesting season). Where farmers are burning within one mile of a woodland or Nature Reserve, they must inform the Gardaí and woodland owner at least one week in advance. Where burning is to take place within a Special Area of Conservation or Natural Heritage Area, written consent must be sought in advance from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. If burning waste creates environmental damage, nuisance or gives rise to pollution, the advice is: do not burn. If in doubt, contact the Environment Section, Kildare County Council on 045 980588.