The facts on backyard burning
The waste stream has changed drastically over the last few decades. In the past, most household garbage consisted of organic materials such as food scraps, but today we throw away a lot of packaging and other materials consisting of plastics, heavy metals, papers, and chemicals. When burned, these materials release gases that pose serious health risks, environmental problems, fire risk, and are a considerable nuisance to people nearby.
In addition, it is against the law to burn garbage in the state of Oregon.
Why is backyard burning dangerous?
Most people who burn their garbage do not realize how harmful this practice is to their health and to the environment. Many dangerous health conditions can be caused by inhaling or ingesting even a small amount of pollutants released during a backyard burn. Small children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with preexisting respiratory conditions are especially vulnerable to these pollutants.
When burned at low temperatures, certain plastics release a group of chemicals called dioxins. When inhaled, dioxins can wreak havoc on the body, leading to adverse reproductive development, suppression of the immune system, disruption of hormonal systems, and even cancer. Not only are dioxins highly toxic when inhaled, but they can also settle on plants and bioaccumulate as they move up the food chain, contributing to toxins in the food supply.
Other dangerous pollutants released during backyard burning include particle pollution, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Hexachlorobenzene (HCB), and ash, which all pose a number of different health risks. Some short-term problems include eye, nose, lung, and throat irritation, headaches, vomiting, nausea, skin irritation, fatigue, and loss of coordination. Other long-term and more serious problems range from liver, kidney and central nervous system damage to cancer.
Through the release of chemicals such as Nitrogen oxides (NOx), Volatile Organic Compunds (VOCs), Carbon Monoxide (CO), and particle pollution, backyard burning contributes to a number of environmental problems, including global climate change, ozone depletion, acid rain, and the formation of smog. In addition, when ash from a burn barrel is improperly disposed of, such as in a garden, it can contaminate food and drinking water.
What does the law say about backyard burning?
According to Oregon DEQ regulations, it is against the law to burn anything other than yard debris, clean and untreated lumber, paper and cardboard, or woody debris anywhere in the state.
In Marion County, no open burning is permitted within the Salem/Keizer Urban Growth Boundary (map), no open burning of debris other than the property owner's is permitted and no burning is permitted in burn barrels. Please review this brochure for details or read the ordinance.
What should I do with my garbage?
The best alternative to burning is to reduce waste in the first place. Use durable, long-lasting products that can be used over and over, and avoid using disposable items. Also, when you can, buy products in bulk, and look for products that use minimal packaging. The next best alternative is to reuse what you already have. You can repair, sell, or donate used or unwanted items. If you can’t find a new use for something, recycle it either with your curbside collection, or at one of the two transfer stations in Marion County. Click here for locations and a list of items that are accepted for recycling at the Salem-Keizer Recycling and Transfer Station or the North Marion County Disposal Facility.
Also, you can compost yard debris and fruit and vegetable scraps at home or with your curbside collection. Finally, if your waste cannot be reused, recycled, or composted you must dispose of it properly with your curbside collection, or bring it to one of the transfer stations for a small fee.