The burning of waste is an illegal practice and is an offence under the following legislation:
- The Waste Management Act, 1996, as amended
- The Air Pollution Act, 1987, the Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) Regulations, 2009
- S.I. No. 738/2020 - Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
The burning of waste includes a wide range of activities, and it is important that members of the public understand what activities are not acceptable, why these activities are not acceptable, and the dangers posed to people and the environment by committing such activities.
In recent years, a temporary exemption has been available to farmers who are permitted to burn certain agricultural green waste in controlled circumstances, however this will come to an end on 30th November 2023 - see below section on the ending of the temporary agricultural exemption.
Burning of waste is a term that covers the following scenarios:
- Householders burning waste in their own yard or garden, either in an exposed pile or in a barrel also known as ‘backyard burning’.
- Burning of waste from construction sites.
- Burning of cut tree limbs, hedge clippings or other green waste resulting from landscaping/gardening works.
- Burning of commercial and/or industrial waste.
- Burning of waste in open fires, ranges and other solid fuel appliances within one’s home, i.e. using waste as an alternative fuel source.
- Using rubbish burners that are sold in shops nationwide. These are also called garden/home incinerators.
People tend to burn waste in an effort to dispose of waste in a manner they perceive to be practical and convenient, however, it is important to understand that the burning of any waste arising from routine activities such as housework, gardening, construction, etc. is an illegal practice, and is damaging to both human health and the environment.
Burning of waste in bonfires at Hallowe'en and other times of the year is prohibited.
Burning of waste essentially involves low temperature fires which receive little oxygen and produce a lot of smoke. Under such conditions toxic substances are readily produced and released into the atmosphere to be subsequently inhaled by people and animals and deposited onto land and vegetation.
There are other means of dealing with household green waste such as hedge clippings, tree branches, etc. Garden shredders may be used and the shredded material could be used as mulch or mixed with compost. Alternatively, householders may bring their green waste (e.g. hedge clippings, grass cuttings, Christmas trees, etc.) to designated recycling centres operated by Cavan County Council.
Ending of temporary agricultural green waste exemption
The practice of burning agricultural green waste will no longer be permitted after the 30th of November 2023. Farmers must consider alternative sustainable management practices for agricultural green waste after this date.
The Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) Regulations 2009 makes it an offence to dispose of waste by burning. An initial five-year exemption was provided for the permissible disposal of waste by burning where it was done as a final measure after the preferred alternatives had been assessed, the local authority was notified and the material to be burned consisted only of uncontaminated wood, trees, tree trimmings, leaves, brush, or other similar waste generated by agricultural practices. This exemption has been extended on several occasions.
In early 2023, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications announced that the practice of burning agricultural green waste will end on the 30th of November 2023.
To facilitate a final transition, a last short time-period for burning will re-open on the 1st of September 2023 and close on the 30th of November 2023. There will be no further extension. Farmers who plan to undertake the burning of agricultural green waste within this timeframe must notify their local authority in advance.
This final burning exemption applies to farmers who generate agricultural green waste through:
- Management of hedgerows
- Land clearance and maintenance activities
- Wind fall material arising
- Pest-infected and diseased material requiring management
This exemption does not apply to the controlled burning of growing vegetation as this is covered by Section 39 & 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976. In addition, if land is in a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) or a Special Protection Area (SPA), it is likely that an application will have to be made to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) for permission to conduct any burning
of vegetation. For the management of invasive species, please refer to the NPWS.
Why is the burning of green waste ending?
To improve the sustainable management of agricultural green waste which will:
- Improve air quality and human health
- Better utilise material for sustainable alternative use
- Enhance and promote biodiversity
What are the sustainable practices to replace burning?
In November 2022, the Irish Bioenergy Association on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine developed a feasibility study on the sustainable management of agricultural green waste in Ireland. This report outlines many sustainable alternatives to burning which farmers are permitted to use, including:
- Use of flailing and return the cut material to the ground in-situ
- Establish a nature pile/biodiversity habitat corner allowing the material to decompose over time
- Produce sustainable wood fuel for own heating use on-farm
- Composting of the material on-farm
- Off-farm energy generation from high quality, large volume, uncontaminated material
- Use of the material for animal bedding
- Produce landscaping material
- Biochar production
Burning of Upland Vegetation (Controlled Burning)
The burning of living, upland vegetation does not come under the Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) Regulations 2009, and therefore the destruction of living vegetation growing on uncultivated land (by burning or any other means) may still be carried out from 1st September to the end of February, which is outside the bird-nesting season. The practice is prohibited by Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976 during the period between 1st March and 31st August annually. The burning of upland vegetation should only be carried out subject to strict conditions:
- Before carrying out any burning, landowners are advised to contact The Environment Section of Cavan County Council on 049 437 8486 and the Fire Brigade Control Centre using its non-emergency telephone numbers 0818 300 112. The location, time and duration should be given.
- Burning of living vegetation is prohibited between 1st March and 31st August each year pursuant to the Wildlife Act, 1976, as amended. Landowners have a special responsibility to preserve the countryside, its landscape and its wildlife. They should take reasonable precautions to ensure that uncontrolled fires do not occur on their property.
- The Wildlife Act, 1976, as amended, and the Forestry Act, 1946, also require that farmers, who are burning within one mile of a woodland or Nature Reserve, inform An Garda Síochána and woodland owner at least one week in advance. Where burning is to take place within a Special Area of Conservation or Natural Heritage Area, written consent must be sought in advance from the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
- Burning should be started early in the day.
- A fire break of at least 50 feet (16 metres) should be made at the outside of the area to be burned.
- Inform your neighbours to prevent alarm.
- Check the weather forecast and do not burn in exceptionally dry conditions where strengthening or variable winds are likely.
- Burn against the direction in which the wind is blowing.
- Do not attempt to carry out the operation alone. Enlist sufficient help to ensure that the burning is carried out efficiently, effectively and safely.
- If possible have a mobile water tanker (e.g. slurry tanker) or crop sprayer with a hose attachment.
- No burning should be carried out at night.
- Remember that strong fire creates its own wind currents so do not allow it to burn too fast.
- If the fire gets out of control and threatens buildings or woodlands, call the Fire Brigade immediately by dialling 999 or 112 and meet the Fire Brigade to show them the best route to the fire.
- Keep children away from the area being burned.
- Before leaving the area, make sure that the fire is completely out. Return later to check, confirm to Fire Brigade Control, via its non-emergency telephone numbers 0818 300 112, that the controlled burning has been completed.
- Remember, it is an offence to start fires within 50 feet (16 metres) of a public road.
- Under Section 35 (3) of the Fire Services Act, 1981 and Section 2 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No 2) Act, 1983, Cavan County Council currently imposes a charge on the owner of the property, or beneficial occupier for the cost of the Fire Brigade being turned out consequent to a fire. However, where Cavan County Council is satisfied that the landowner has taken reasonable precaution to guard against an uncontrolled outbreak of fire or where it is shown exceptional hardship exists, it may, at its own discretion, decide to waive part or all of the charge.
- The full feasibility study to explore the sustainable management of agriculture green waste in Ireland is available at: tinyurl.com/IrBEA-SMAGWStudy
- Download information leaflet 'Agricultural green waste: sustainable alternative management and uses'
- Download information flyer 'Ending of exemption for agricultural green waste burning'
If burning waste creates environmental damage, nuisance or gives rise to pollution, the advice is: do not burn. If in doubt, contact the Environment Section, Cavan County Council on 049 437 8486.
The guidelines set out in the Farmer’s Handbook for Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) is also a useful reference.