State regulations allow individual households to incinerate small amounts of dry, household waste that includes only recyclable paper and cardboard, natural fibers, clean, untreated wood and similar materials, and small amounts of dry leaves and plant cuttings, unless prohibited by local regulation.
However, firefighters warn that the open burning of many materials produces a variety of air pollutants that are unhealthy for you or your neighbors to breathe. In addition, rubble is the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin, accounting for nearly 30% of the state’s wildfires each year.
If incineration is the only option for garden waste, fire permits may be required to incinerate garden rubbish heaps or for broadcast fire at any time when the ground is not completely covered with snow. Permits ensure legal and responsible fire with minimal veldfire risk.
In DNR protection areas, permit holders are authorized to burn small amounts of vegetative material, such as leaves, brush and pine needles.
To learn more about Wisconsin fire permits and alternative methods of burning open, visit the DNR’s Open Burning website.
If you choose to burn, follow these simple guidelines for burning safely:
- Find alternatives to burning debris before deciding to burn
- Obtain proper fire permits and follow all restrictions
- Comply with local regulations
- Burn only legal materials
- Watch the weather and avoid fires in windy conditions
- Make sure that the area next to the fire is free of all flammable substances
- Keep a water source and fire fighting equipment close by
- Keep the size of the fire small and manageable
- Maintain a mineral soil fire path around the fire area
- Never leave the fire unattended
- If weather conditions worsen, put out the fire
- If the fire escapes, call 911 immediately
- Make sure the burn is completely out before you leave
- Use plenty of water, drown, stir and repeat until cold
- Check the fire again for residual smoke or coals
Fire clean to protect community health
Incineration can not only affect the environment, but it can also endanger a person’s health or a neighbor’s health. Burning plastic and treated or painted wood can release carcinogens such as arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde into the air. Children, older adults and people with heart disease and respiratory ailments, such as asthma, are generally more sensitive to smoking from burning rubbish.
Recycling and composting can replace the open incineration of garbage and garden waste. Most communities in Wisconsin have a recycling program for plastic, glass, metal containers, and paper. For garden waste, compost is a good alternative to incineration.
It is also illegal to burn recyclable materials such as glass, plastic, metal containers and clean paper, as well as agricultural and horticultural plastics such as silage film, hay bags, bales, woven tarpaulins and nursery pots and pans.
Check out the DNR’s “Can I Burn” Web Tool to help determine if incineration is permitted under Wisconsin State Air and Waste Management Regulations. State regulations are the minimum requirements for open fire and local ordinances may also apply. It is best to consult with local officials to determine the best disposal options in your area.
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