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Illegal Activities: Backyard Burning

Backyard Burning

The term Back yard 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 can se 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 legimite 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.


Recycling is the next best option. We should separate our waste into the various waste types. Those that are recyclable, ie glass and beverage cans should be brought to bring-banks making sure to do so as part of another journey.

Home Composting

Contact your Local Authority about buying a home composter to recycle your garden and green waste as well as certain types of kitchen waste.


Textiles and foot - ware in good condition should be washed and bagged, so that the next time you are passing a Textile bank, you can recycle them. Some charity shops also accept this material, so call them beforehand to find out what they will accept.

Paper, Plastic & Metals

If there is a Civic Amenity facility near you, ring the Local Authority to find out which materials they accept. You can dramatically reduce the volume of your waste needing disposal by using a facility like this. You should contact your Local Authority for a list of permitted collectors before you give anybody your residual waste for disposal. All Waste Collection Contractors must have a Waste Collection Permit before they can accept waste. Mayo County Council is the permit authority for the counties of Sligo, Mayo, Leitrim, Roscommon, and Galway City and Council. Following new regulations, it is now a criminal offence to give your waste to a contractor without a permitted. Ring your Local Authority to check if the contractor has a permit.

The Law

There are two important laws, which prevent the burning of waste, even when waste is being burned as an alternative fuel. The Air Pollution Act 1987 obliges everybody not to cause or permit an emission in such a quantity, or in such a manner, as to be a nuisance or cause Air Pollution. There is an additional obligation on business and other non-domestic operators to use the best practical means to prevent or limit emissions. The Waste Management Act 1996 prohibits the burning of any waste except in accordance with a permit. The Local Authority may issue such a permit for relatively small quantities, subject to conditions. The process involved is very similar to applying for Planning Permission. Advertisements have to be placed in the paper and site notices have to be erected and maintained. Usually such permits have conditions applied, which restrict the types of waste, and how it is burned. An example of a case where a permit has been issued is the burning of natural untreated wood by a sawmill for space heating. Both of these laws have heavy penalties for non-compliance.

Environment Section

Second Floor, Mayo County Council
Áras an Chontae
The Mall

Phone: (094) 902 44 44
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