Scrapbook Photo 11/28/21 - 36 New Stories - REAL Environmental & Conservation Leadership In PA:
Opinion- Ban Your Burn Barrel, Save Someone Special
By Jill Reigh, Communications Manager, Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania

As a native of central Pennsylvania, I remember the “burn barrel” being one of my chores while growing up. I watched Styrofoam curl, paper from magazines and cardboard disintegrate and plastic reduced to weird shapes. There were also several times each year when we burned the leaves and other yard waste accumulated from our trees.

Back in the early 1970s, I didn’t consider all of the toxic fumes I was pumping into the neighborhood air, the potential mulch being burned or the reusable plastic that I was simply destroying.

Today, as the Communications Manager for PROP, the state recycling association based in Bellwood, I understand the importance of proper trash disposal. As a mom who hovered over my sleeping baby and as an adult with asthma, I appreciate those who have come to ban their barrel rather than burn in that barrel. Personally and professionally, I am pleading with you to ban your burn barrel for your family’s health, and for our green earth.

For many of you shaking your heads in horror at the thought of eliminating the barrel for waste disposal, please just take a moment and think about what deadly (and invisible except for the telltale smoke) fumes you are sending into your house. Do you have children? Does your elderly parent live with you? They are particularly susceptible to those nasty fumes.

Open burning pollutes the air, causing those with chronic cough or asthma to become sicker. It has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and lung cancer. Did you know that children absorb up to six times the amount of by-products that adults absorb from the same air?
Regular exposure to these fumes can cause long-term damage to the lungs. If you don’t have kids or parents at home, then just think what that soot is doing to the finish of your car or home’s exterior!

You do have another choice – recycle the paper, plastic and cans. Your township or municipality is actually losing out on state funds from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) when recyclable items are not recycled. So perhaps you are actually burning money when you burn your trash! Do you really want to burn money?

You can start a simple compost pile (if permitted) for the food waste that will still offer you a perfect reason to go outside into the yard. You will then be amazed at the small pile of actual garbage you need to dispose of with a trash hauler. Check with your local municipal officials for their recommendations and a list of places to recycle and take trash.

As you start on new, better habits with your trash, I urge you to get involved with your township or city officials to let them know that you want recycling and a solid trash plan. We have seen a great deal of success in counties that recognize the need and residents’ desire for better recycling and solid waste programs. Larger communities are required by state law to recycle the basics.

For public officials, PROP needs you to realize the importance for county recycling and solid waste offices to evaluate their education, outreach, and public notification strategies and strive to better communicate with municipal officials and the general public. Do your residents know what can be recycled in your area and how to get those items where they need to go?

In a recent study to address waste and recycling program shortcomings in rural Pennsylvania that PROP conducted for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), over half of the study respondents living in areas of population under 5,000 people allow the burning of trash. About 35 percent of these municipalities allow trash burning without any restrictions or limitations. Some of the restrictions are as simple as only allowing the burning of trash once a week.

Our studies have shown that where open burning is either not banned or there are few restrictions, other problems including illegal dumping are also more prevalent.

Counties should push for stronger open burning bans and use whatever resources they can to get information out to the public and their municipalities. Your municipality risks losing potential grant money from the DEP for every recyclable item you allow to be burned.

Be sure that builders and remodelers know that in Pennsylvania, burning of construction and demolition (C&D) and commercial waste are illegal, no matter what the local ordinances state.

For residents and public officials, there are resources available to help. PROP has facts sheets on open burning, illegal dumping and many other informative publications about green living. Visit us online at the PROP website.

The Earth 911 database recently expanded its Pennsylvania database and updates from the counties are essential to make this resource effective.

This material is based upon work supported under a grant by the Utilities Programs, United States Department of Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Utilities Programs.

Jill Reigh
can be contacted by sending email to:


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