EPA warns Halloween bonfires not excuse to dispose of waste

Date released: Oct 30 2007

All Hallow’s Eve is fast approaching and households all across the land are preparing for a night of ghouls & goblins; witches & wizards; glowing lanterns; tricks or treats and fancy dress.  But something far more sinister has been slowly creeping into the time old tradition of lighting bonfires to celebrate Halloween! 

Where traditionally wood and straw were used for bonfires there is now increasing evidence that individuals are using Halloween as an opportunity to dispose of waste illegally.   The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is warning householders and businesses not to supply waste material to groups collecting for Halloween, with a reminder that it is illegal to give your waste to anyone without a Waste Collection Permit.  Providing household waste material for burning in a Halloween bonfire is committing a criminal offence.

This practice, now recognised as Backyard Burning, is also harmful to the environment as burning waste material contributes to over 50 per cent of all dioxin emissions in Ireland.  It is a growing problem nationwide with 80 per cent of local authorities identifying Backyard Burning as a significant issue.  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.

Commenting on the illegal burning of waste, Jim Moriarty, Senior Inspector, EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said:
“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. What is especially worrying is that 15 per cent of adults believe Backyard Burning is an acceptable method of disposing of waste.  People need to understand the environmental and health risks associated with Backyard Burning - Backyard Burning is the single greatest source of dioxins in Ireland.”

Do not use this festive time to dispose of waste illegally. Remember, Backyard Burning is illegal and can result in prosecution.

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, for example 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 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.