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Trash burning hazardous to air, leading cause of wildfires

Weekly News article published: March 27, 2012 by the Central Office

Environmental, forestry officials urge alternatives to burning

MADISON - People conducting spring cleanups who are thinking about taking a match to a debris pile may want to think twice, according to state environmental officials, who caution that burning household trash adds dangerous pollutants to the air. And while burning some yard waste is legal in some areas, state forestry officials caution that debris burning is the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin, causing approximately 30 percent of such fires each year.

"Burning any material, whether plastic, paper or wood, produces a variety of hazardous and toxic air pollutants, including carcinogens such as arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde," said Brad Wolbert, of the Department of Natural Resources Waste and Materials Management Program. "Children and others with asthma are especially harmed by smoke from burning garbage. If you burn trash, you're affecting your health and the environment more than you know."

A study by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency found that the amount of cancer causing dioxin and furan emissions from 15 households burning trash each day is the same as those emissions from a 200 ton per day municipal waste incinerator with high efficiency emission control technology.

Because of its environmental risk, burning trash in Wisconsin is illegal. In addition, Wisconsin's recycling law and local ordinances prohibit burning or disposing of recyclable materials in landfills.

"Recycling programs are available in every community for plastic, glass and metal containers, corrugated cardboard, newspaper, and magazines," Wolbert said.

Agricultural and horticultural plastics like silage film, haylage bags, bale wrap, woven tarps, nursery pots, and trays must also be recycled or landfilled. It is illegal to burn plastics in Wisconsin. Materials that are not recyclable should go to a legal disposal facility, not a burn barrel or pile.

Materials that are legal to burn, such as leaves and brush, are also regulated under state codes.

Burning permits, issued by the DNR, are required for debris burns. Burning permits are designed so that people may burn brush only in areas where and at times when the risk of wildfire is low. Burning permits only authorize the burning of legal materials.

Instead of burning, state environmental and forestry officials recommend people visit the DNR website and search keywords "open burning" for alternative such as composting and recycling.

Current law requires individuals wishing to burn legal materials to first obtain a burning permit and then call or check online on the day of the burn for the daily restrictions. Permits can be obtained online or calling 1-888-WIS-BURN from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Customers may also visit their local Ranger Station or Emergency Fire Warden for permits in-person. Permits are free and valid for one year. For more information on burning permits and the current fire danger in Wisconsin, see the DNR website.

For more information on how to handle waste materials, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keyword "waste." For information on recycling of agricultural pesticide containers see www.acrecycle.org (exit DNR).

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Brad Wolbert, 608-264-6286 or Bill Cosh, 608-267-2773


Last Revised: Tuesday, March 27, 2012