Backyard Burning

The term Backyard Burning is applied to the uncontrolled burning of waste. Such burning is frequently carried out in backyards and in gardens, but the term also refers to the burning of any waste in open fires, ranges and other solid fuel appliances or in the open. It includes the burning of waste on sites by builders. This term also refers to what are described as rubbish burners, which we see advertised for sale in recent times.

The Attraction

There has been a huge increase in backyard burning of waste. This has coincided with increasing waste disposal charges. Some people see it as a way to save money. There is no doubt that some people think that there is no harm in this way of reducing the amount of waste of which they have to dispose. To some people this is a legitimate form of waste disposal, but this is not the case.

The Problems

Burning used to be seen as a nuisance to the householder because it ruined a neighbour’s washing with smuts. In the past the nuisance caused directly by smoke was considered the only reason not to burn waste. Traditionally waste was made up of simple things like wood, paper and organically produced food waste. However modern science has changed much of this. The application of chemicals to preserve and enhance things and the widespread use of metals and plastic in most manufacturing items has changed much of what is in our waste today.

Toxic Fumes

When we burn most waste items, toxic and dangerous by-products are created. These are not subsequently destroyed by the fire and are emitted into the air we breathe. These pollutants can have profound long-term health implications. Tiny amounts of some pollutants emitted by the backyard burning of chlorinated products like certain types of plastics and solvents. These are sufficient to have undesirable health effects. They can also contaminate our back-gardens when they precipitate out of the air and land on the ground. This type of uncontrolled burning should be avoided at all costs. For example burning wood that is painted or treated with a preservative can be the cause of emitting very toxic fumes. The same is true when paper, which is plastic coated or contains certain inks, or glue used to bind pages together in book form, is burned.

The Real Solution

The only real solution is to minimise the amount of waste of which we have to dispose. We can achieve this through changes in what we buy. We all must cut down on the volumes of waste, which we need to dispose of by avoidance and reuse.


We should assess our waste to look for reuse opportunities. We should see if there is any beneficial reuse options for items and materials that would otherwise be recycled. For example empty containers, are they returnable or reusable elsewhere?