Mar 27, 2007

Wisconsin - Improper trash burning is illegal & hazardous, but DNR offer alternatives

SPOONER, Wis. -Anyone taking a match to a woody debris pile this spring may want to think twice. If the pile contains household trash the fire will be adding dangerous pollutants to the air.

According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, a single household open burning unsorted trash can produce as much of some cancer causing emissions as a 200-ton-per-day municipal waste incinerator with high efficiency emission control technology.

"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 Neal Baudhuin, Department of Natural Resources air management supervisor at Rhinelander. "Looking for alternatives to burning is one thing everyone can do to help our environment," he added.


Burning poses fire danger - Debris burning is also the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin.

These fires often threaten the safety of citizens and fire fighters, burn structures, and damage natural resources. Because of their danger, debris burns are regulated by state code. Requirements include not burning until after 6 p.m. nor on Sundays, holidays and during high winds when the ground is not snow covered.

Permits for burning outside of city limits may be obtained at DNR service centers local ranger stations or from volunteer emergency fire wardens in the community. Permits help inform local citizens of the correct method to burn allowable materials and alerts fire fighters to locations of where to expect smoke.

Even though a person has a permit, if a fire escapes from control or the person fails to extinguish the fire, he or she can be held responsible for all costs of suppression and civil damages. Anyone burning without a permit may be issued a citation.

In addition, burning the following materials is prohibited under any conditions:

  • wet, combustible rubbish;
  • oily substances, such as oily or greasy rags and oil filters;
  • asphalt products such as shingles or tar paper;
  • plastics of any kind, including plastic bottles and plastic bags;
  • rubber products, including tires and hoses;
  • treated, stained or painted wood; and
  • upholstered furniture, bedding, carpeting, etc.
  • recyclable paper or cardboard; and
  • garbage.
Homeowners may also burn small quantities of nonrecyclable paper and unpainted, untreated wood. State and local laws require recycling of plastic containers, corrugated cardboard, newspaper, magazines and office paper. Penalties can be assessed to individuals and businesses for the improper disposal of recyclables.

However, if people do choose to burn, DNR air quality specialists say they should be courteous to neighbors and be aware of the effect the smoke and air pollution has on people and the environment downwind. They recommend people look into alternatives to getting rid of burnable waste.

"Property owners may want to donate items like furniture, appliances and other usable household items to local thrift stores, charities or schools as a first option rather than burning or landfilling them," said Bob Germer, a DNR recycling specialist.

Brush, leaves and plant clippings could be composted. Backyard composting information is available at local DNR Service Centers.

Outdoor enthusiasts may want to use renewable paper products for meal preparation rather than more costly, hard-to-manage plastic and foam utensils. Burning a paper plate in a campfire creates less of an environmental and human health impact than the black noxious smoke of a foam plate. Wash and reuse the plastic utensils.

Businesses , commercial enterprises, and industries may not use burn barrels or openly burn wastes and may not be granted burning permits by municipalities. Businesses may obtain a permit to burn small brush piles that are the result of clearing business property on a case-by-case basis.

The Department of Natural Resources encourages all persons to consider alternatives to open burning such as reducing the amount of waste produced, reuse of items, recycling, chipping and composting yard and brush and landfilling.

Waste reduction, reuse, and recycling information is also available on the DNR Web site and at DNR service centers.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Bob Germer, DNR recycling specialist – (715) 635-4060