Halloween bonfires not excuse to dispose of waste

Date released: Oct 23 2006

With Halloween just around the corner, communities nationwide are preparing for the time old tradition of lighting bonfires to celebrate Halloween.  While traditionally wood and straw were used for bonfires there is increasing evidence that individuals are using Halloween as an opportunity to dispose of waste illegally – according to the EPA.   The EPA is warning households and businesses not to supply waste material to parties collecting for Halloween and that it is illegal to allow collectors without a Waste Collection Permit to collect and dispose of waste.

Providing household waste material for burning in a Halloween bonfire is committing a criminal offence. It also harmful to the environment as burning waste material contributes to over 50% of all dioxin emissions in Ireland.  The term phrased for the illegally burning of waste is Backyard Burning. It is a growing problem nationwide with 80% of local authorities identifying Backyard Burning as a significant issue, according to the recently published EPA Focus on the Environment Report.

Commenting on the illegal burning of waste, Dr Dara Lynott, EPA Director, EPA’s Office of Enforcement said: “Backyard Burning is a growing problem nationwide with a spike in the increase noted around Halloween.  It is very unfortunate that some people use a festive time like Halloween to dispose of waste illegally.  Tyres in particular are frequently burnt on bonfires even though they produce toxic fumes, releasing dioxins into the air damaging our health and the environment. It is important to remember that Backyard Burning is illegal and can result in prosecution.”

The statistics surrounding Backyard Burning are alarming.  According to an EPA survey on Irish people’s attitudes on environmental issues, one in ten adults admit to burning household waste. This problem continues to grow even though 80% of adults are aware of the environmental and health risks associated with Backyard Burning and 40% are aware that Backyard Burning is the greatest source of dioxins in Ireland.  Two findings from the survey that are especially worrying is that 15% of adults believe Backyard Burning is an acceptable method of disposing of waste and half of those that admitted to burning did so in the knowledge of the public health implications due to the associated release of dioxins.

Note to the Editor:

Backyard Burning – The facts!

Backyard Burning , the uncontrolled burning of waste, releases toxic pollutants into the air without treatment or filter damaging our health and our environment.

Typically, waste burned at home can include paper, cardboard, textiles, timbers, food, garden clippings, synthetics such as plastics and even glass, metal and household chemicals.  The waste is burned at a temperature of about 200-400ºC - the temperature at which dioxins are formed and released directly into the air.  For dioxins to be destroyed waste needs to be burned at much higher temperatures - in excess of 850ºC – and under controlled conditions.

Often materials that seem innocuous, such as wood or paper are treated with chemicals such as paint, glue and preservatives that can emit toxic fumes when burned. The amount of toxins released from backyard burning depends on the composition of the waste being burnt, the temperature of the fire and the supply of oxygen.

It is important for the public to remember that there is a long list of pollutants that can potentially be generated by backyard burning regardless of whether the waste is burned in piles in the back of the garden, in barrels or in open pits.

The following constitutes Backyard Burning:

  • burning waste in a barrel or exposed in heap in a yard or garden
  • burning in a purchased ready ‘home incinerator’
  • burning commercial waste on a business premises or farmyard
  • burning waste on a building site