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The administrative rules of the Air Management and Waste Management Programs prohibit anyone from burning any of the following materials under any conditions:
These prohibitions apply to individual property owners (or renters) as well as to business and industry.
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A new Department of Natural Resources (DNR) online tool helps residents know "Can I Burn?"
The DNR has a new, interactive online tool that provides information to Wisconsin residents and businesses about open burning.
DNR's open burning webpages now include an interactive tool called "Can I burn?", which allows users to input information regarding their burn intent, locations and types of materials they want to burn, and then provides directions on what to do next.
The online tool is user-friendly and takes less than a minute to complete. If residents are intending to burn several different material types, they will have to complete the tool for each type to determine eligibility.
The new open burning webpages also include updates on open burning's environmental and health impacts, DNR contacts, information on alternative ways to manage materials and how to file open burning complaints.
Where not prohibited by local ordinance, leaf burning and burning of plant clippings and brush is allowed anywhere in the state, as long as weather conditions do not pose a fire hazard. However, leaf burning is discouraged because of the air pollution it causes and because of the benefits of composting and mulching with these materials.
Individual homeowners may burn small quantities of dry combustible rubbish such as paper, cardboard and/or clean untreated wood. Again, local ordinance can override this allowance. This is especially true in populated areas such as southeastern Wisconsin, where most municipalities have banned or severely limited open burning. Paper and cardboard can now be recycled in all communities, and recycling is the best disposal method for these items.
In either case, be sure to contact your local fire authority before you start burning to find out if you need to obtain a burning permit.
Instead of burning, the DNR recommends that you:
Garbage normally includes wet food scraps and plastic, which are not allowed to be burned. Therefore, you may burn only the materials that are allowed to be open burned-namely, leaves, plant clippings, personal papers and clean, untreated wood. Burn barrels operate at low temperatures (400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit), resulting in incomplete combustion of the wastes being burned.
Burning prohibited materials such as plastics, asphalt, rubber and other man-made materials generates additional hazardous air pollutants. A 1994 study done for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that each pound of garbage burned in a burn barrel emits twice as much furans, 20 times more dioxin and 40 times more particulates than if that same pound of garbage were burned in an incinerator with air pollution controls.
Burn barrels often emit acid vapors, carcinogenic tars, and "heavy metals" such as lead, cadmium and chromium, as well as unhealthful levels of carbon monoxide. The closer you stand to the burn barrel, the more of these harmful chemicals you inhale.
Residual ash is another result of incomplete combustion. Frequently, a significant portion of material in the barrel-especially at the bottom-is not burned up. Ash disposal outside of a sanitary landfill can cause problems sooner (for those immediately exposed) or later (for example, if water contacting the ash becomes contaminated and gets into groundwater and/or surface water).
Materials that may not be burned in a burn barrel-such as tires, plastics and rubber-also should not be burned in a furnace, wood stove or similar home heating system.
The DNR Forestry Program, under Chapter 26, Wisconsin Statutes, and many local governments require burning permits to prevent forest fires and protect life and property. State laws administered by the Air Management Program and many local ordinances spell out the kinds of materials that may be burned and the conditions under which burning will or won't be allowed.
Local ordinances may require burning permits to minimize nuisance effects from open burning. Burning permits are also designed so that people may burn only in areas where and at times when the risk of wildfire is not high. If a burning permit or license is obtained, it does not give authority to burn materials that are illegal to burn under state or local law.
Wisconsin businesses, industry and municipalities generally will need an approved incinerator to burn waste materials and are prohibited from doing any open burning with one exception. If a business, industry or municipality wishes to burn clean wood waste or brush, it must first obtain approval and a license from the Waste Management Program to operate as a "woodburning facility", as required in section NR 502.11, Wis. Admin. Code. A wood-burning facility license may include guidance limiting the burning conditions and amounts of material that may be burned, to ensure that air quality is not adversely affected. Please contact your district Waste Management Program staff to get additional information on what is needed to get this license.
If the woodburning facility license is issued in an area that is in an intensive or extensive fire control area, the facility must also obtain a burning permit in accordance with Chapter 26 of the Wisconsin Statutes from the local representative of the Forestry program. Burning should be done only under favorable burning conditions: relative humidity not more than 65%, and winds of 5 to 12 miles per hour.
Small businesses, commercial enterprises, and industries may not use burn barrels or engage in other kinds of open burning and may not be granted burning permits by municipalities. However, the prohibition on burn barrels does not apply to small businesses in which the owners reside at the same location and cannot separate their business waste from their household waste.
Since January 3, 1993, Wisconsin's Recycling Law has prohibited the disposal or burning of yard waste without using energy recovery in solid waste facilities (including commercial, municipal, industrial and government landfills and wood burning facilities). Yard waste is defined as leaves, grass clippings, yard and garden debris, and brush, including clean, woody vegetative matter smaller than six inches in diameter. However, a new law effective May 1994 allows the DNR to grant wood burning facilities a conditional waiver to burn yard and garden brush.
As of January 1, 1995, the Recycling Law requires that the following items may neither be burned at commercial, industrial or municipal facilities nor sent to landfills for disposal:
Packaging materials, such as corrugated shipping containers, roll wrapper stock or scrap wood, are classified as municipal solid waste, not as industrial process waste. Consequently, these materials may be burned only in a permitted municipal solid waste combustor licensed by the Waste Management Program.
Commercial and industrial operations also may not burn wood pallets, wood scraps, brush, or other clean wood unless they obtain a DNR license for a "wood burning facility" as defined in section NR 502.11, Wis. Admin. Code. This approval contains numerous restrictions. The business may also need to obtain a burning permit in accordance with the Forestry Program's requirements in Chapter 26 of the Wisconsin Statutes.
With these limitations, businesses are trying to find ways to generate less waste and reuse or recycle as much as possible. Businesses should dispose of non-recyclable wastes at an approved landfill. Visit WIDNR's Managing Waste and Materials for further information.