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MADISON – This spring state environmental officials are recommending options such as recycling and composting to replace open burning of trash and yard debris, alternatives that can help the economy and also keep dangerous pollutants out of the air.
While it is legal to burn some yard waste in certain areas, state forestry officials caution that debris burning is the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin, causing about 30 percent of the state’s wildfires each year.
“Don’t let the recent rainfall lull you into complacency,” says Catherine Koele, wildfire prevention specialist with the Department of Natural Resources. “Wildfire season is upon us and the weather can change quickly. All it takes is a day or two of dry and windy conditions to elevate the fire danger.”
Burning trash in Wisconsin is illegal because of its environmental risk. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that 15 households burning trash each day emits the same amount of cancer-causing dioxin and furan emissions as a 200-ton-per-day municipal waste incinerator that uses high-efficiency emissions control technology.
“Open burning of any material – plastic, paper or wood – produces a variety of hazardous and toxic air pollutants, including carcinogens such as arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde,” said Brad Wolbert, DNR waste and materials management program section chief. “Children and people with asthma are especially harmed by smoke from burning garbage. If you burn trash, you’re affecting your health and the environment more than you know.”
It’s also illegal in the state to burn recyclable materials such as glass, plastic, metal containers and clean paper, as well as agricultural and horticultural plastics such as silage film, haylage bags, bale wrap, woven tarps and nursery pots and trays. If these materials cannot be recycled, they should go to a landfill or other legal disposal facility, not a burn barrel or pile.
“Every community has a recycling program for plastic, glass and metal containers, and paper,” Wolbert said, “and for yard debris, composting is the best option.”
Wolbert noted that composting and recycling are the preferred alternatives to burning and provide many additional environmental and economic benefits. Search for “open burning” on the DNR website for more alternatives to burning.
If burning is the only option for yard waste, a burning permit from the DNR is required to burn debris piles or for broadcast burning any time the ground is not completely snow-covered. Permit holders are authorized to burn vegetative materials, such as leaves, brush and pine needles. Permits are designed so that people burn safely when and where the risk of wildfire is minimal.
Customers can obtain permits online or by calling 1-888-WIS-BURN from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. They may also visit their local ranger station or emergency fire warden to receive permits. Once an individual has a burning permit, he or she must call or go online after 11 a.m. on the day of the planned burn to check daily fire restrictions.
For more information on burning permits and the current fire danger in Wisconsin, visit the DNR website and search “burn permit.” To learn more about ways to handle waste materials, search “waste” on the DNR website. Information on recycling of agricultural pesticide containers is available at www.acrecycle.org.