The burning of waste is an illegal practice and is an offence under the Waste Management Act, 1996, as amended, the Air Pollution Act, 1987, the Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) Regulations, 2009, and 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.
However, a temporary exemption is available to farmers who are permitted to burn certain agricultural green waste in controlled circumstances - see section on 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.
Temporary agricultural exemption
There is an exemption under the Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) Regulations, 2009, the Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, and S.I. No. 738/2020 - Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 that allows farmers - in accordance with the waste hierarchy and as a last resort - to dispose of wastes generated by agricultural practices by burning (i.e. untreated/uncontaminated wood, trees, trimmings, leaves, bushes). This temporary exemption has been extended until 1st January 2022.
This exemption does not apply unless the waste is generated by agricultural practices so it does not apply to green waste originating from a domestic or commercial setting.
Burning of such wastes arising from agricultural activities may only be undertaken as a final measure following the application of the following waste hierarchy:
- Waste arisings are reduced in accordance with best agricultural practice.
- Waste is reused where practicable.
- Waste is recycled through shredding and used as compost or wood chippings.
- Waste is salvaged for use as fuel where practicable.
Further to the above measures, it is important that farmers note that it is illegal to burn any living vegetation between 1st March and 31st August each year pursuant to the Wildlife Act, 1976, as amended, as this is the bird nesting season.
In addition to the strict terms of the agricultural exemption, farmers are also reminded to adhere to the precautions that follow when disposing of gorse, scrub and other such agricultural green waste through burning.
Precautions for the burning of exempt agricultural waste
- 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 the emergency telephone numbers of 999 or 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 dialing 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 999 or 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.
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.
Any queries in relation to the enforcement of the Wildlife Act, 1976, as amended, should be directed to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The guidelines set out in the Farmer’s Handbook for Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) is also a useful reference.