In many small rural communities, it’s very common to burn garbage. Often called ‘backyard burning’, people place their trash in a ‘burn barrel’ and set it on fire. These metal barrels are about 55 gallons with an open-head drum. Residents often burn garbage because they feel it’s convenient. It also helps reduce trash pickup fees and is an efficient way to get rid of waste if there isn’t a dump nearby. The latter may have been an issue many years ago but even the most remote areas now have easier access to landfills or a waste collection service.
Proponents argue that they’re actually doing good for the environment. They say burning garbage reduces the need for landfill sites and helps governments save money on waste transportation. While the carbon footprint may be reduced, rubbish incineration is still very dangerous. This is true not only for the environment but also your health. Here are some reasons why you should stay away from the practice altogether.
Reason #1: Destructive to health
Backyard burning releases pollutants close to ground level, which means they are easily inhaled and mixed into the food chain. When you burn man-made materials, the charring process releases dangerous toxins into the air. This is harmful to you, your children, neighbours and pets. Kids, teenagers and pregnant women can be the most affected. And as if that isn’t bad enough, these toxins can also be released into the soil and groundwater. This harms the fish as well as the water you drink everyday. Once the burn is over the leftover ash, which is also toxic, can linger in your hair and clothing.
Because these chemicals are often invisible and the health effects are not immediate, it’s easy to assume that burning garbage is causing no harm. However, toxins will continue to accumulate in your body as long as you continue this practice.
Reason #2: Fire risks
Forest fires are often caused by careless people burning their trash. You may believe that a burn barrel is safe and the flames are well contained. But weather conditions can turn quickly. A subtle change in wind direction could blow cinders into a pile of dry leaves, whipping up a horrific fire. The flames could destroy nearby homes and buildings, forcing residents to flee. Burning garbage to avoid waste disposal fees is not worth the damage (or death) it could cause.
Oil, rubber, plastic and manure should never be burned. Not only do they release dioxins, but flames tend to spread quickly once they come in contact with these materials.
Reason #3: Contaminates the food chain
Burning garbage is a huge source of uncontrolled pollution that contaminates our food chain. Studies repeatedly show that the practice produces more dioxins and furans than all industrial activities combined. As they say, what goes up must come down. And that means these poisons are settling on our forests, lakes, streams and fields. They ultimately appear in the food chain, contaminating our livestock and fish. These toxins then enter our bloodstream when we eat meat, fish and dairy products.
Reason #4: Against the law
In some municipalities, rubbish incineration is illegal. Although campfires are allowed, burning pits to destroy trash is not. Campfires are usually not frowned upon because you’re only burning untreated wood, which is not as harmful to the environment. But a lot of the packaging materials found in our trash become extremely poisonous when lit. If you want to avoid paying hefty penalties, avoid garbage burning altogether and send your waste to a landfill instead.
What is safe to burn?
Nothing should be burned, other than to cook food or heat your home. Burning plant clippings, paper and untreated wood is better than burning plastics, but it’s still not a good idea.
What’s a better solution to burning garbage?
If you think burning trash is a convenient way to get rid of it, consider all the reasons why this is dangerous. Bring your garbage to a disposal facility instead. You may be stunned by the low fees charged by your municipality to get rid of waste legally. Alternatively, you could hire a sanitation service that will properly get rid of your trash and recyclables. Meanwhile you can give back to the environment by composting all your leaves and garden clippings. These can be turned into fertilizer to grow fresh vegetables and improve your region’s soil conditions. Reduce product packaging by buying in bulk. And instead of burning your trash, sort it and recycle all paper, metal and plastics instead.