Monday, 21 May 2007


In a very short while we will see the familiar annual bonfires that are lit around the peninsula to celebrate the solstice. I thought it would be a good time to look into the harmful effects of burning rubbish such as treated wood, car tyres, plastics and all other petrochemical products that are thrown onto these bonfires every year.


Backyard burning
The term backyard burning includes any uncontrolled burning of waste. Such burning is frequently carried out in backyards and gardens. The term also refers to the burning of any waste in open fires, ranges and other solid fuel appliances. It also includes the burning of waste on site by builders. All of these methods are now against the law. A permit to burn waste can be applied for in much the same way that planning applications are. Adverts have to be put in the paper and site notices need to be erected.

There has been a huge increase in backyard burning. One reason for this is that the waste disposal charges have gone up recently. Some people think that there is no harm disposing of waste in this manner, but that isn’t the case. Burning waste was seen as something that just dirtied the washing on your line and traditionally fires were made up of simple things like wood, paper and organically produced waste. However modern science has changed all that. The widespread use of plastics, rubbers and metals as well as solvent glues have made waste a very dangerous cocktail of harmful products.

When we burn most waste items, toxic fumes are produced; these pollutants can have profound long-term health implications. Paper that is covered with plastic, the old foam from settees, polystyrene, glues from books and plastics have all been linked to serious illnesses. The remains of the fires will also poison your garden for many years.

What can we do?
The only real solution is to minimise the amount of waste we have to dispose. We can do this by buying products with as little packaging as possible. The packaging we do buy can possibly be reused such as plastic containers. Anything that can’t be reused can be taken down to the local recycling centres. Don’t forget your old clothes and shoes too. The charity shops will take these and there are also clothes banks in most of the recycling centres around Inishowen. Compost your kitchen waste in the garden as well, the council still have some of the composters for sale and at €13 they are still a bargain.

Waste disposal contractors
Nowadays we have a greater obligation with regards to our waste. This is true when it comes to the safe disposal of it. When the bonfires are being built don’t give anyone tyres, plastics or any other petrochemical product. There is no excuse as most of us are well aware that this is now an illegal practice. It is also important when we dispose of any waste to ensure that the refuse collector has a Waste Collection Permit that allows them to dispose of the waste as safely as possible. In most counties it is now a criminal offence to give your waste to a contractor without a permit. Ring the council to check the contractor is above the law if you are in any doubt.

There are two important laws that are in place to prevent the burning of waste, even when it is being used as an alternative fuel.

The Air Pollution act of 1987 obliges everyone not to cause or permit an emission in such a quantity, or in such a manner, as to be a nuisance or cause air pollution. The other act is the 1996 Waste management act, this is in place to ensure that business and other non-domestic operators use the best possible means to prevent or limit emissions. This means that they will need the permit that I mentioned earlier. There are heavy laws for non-compliance.

We aren’t organised in Inishowen yet to have large fires that are supervised. Bonfires can be fun for everyone if precautions are taken. If the fire consists mainly of untreated wood it will greatly reduce the chances of any long-term illnesses for the people who breath in the smoke from the fires and people with asthma and other respiratory problems should be able to breath a little easier.

Most of us can now breathe a sigh of relief as the elections are over. My dog has never barked so much at the door as canvassers called around. We can look forward to all the election posters to disappear from the telegraph poles and every other available mounting post. As a matter of interest if they are still up at the end of the week the people whose faces are on the boards are liable for prosecution for littering! I will let you know if anyone gets fined.


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