Why You Shouldn’t Use a Burn Barrel
Burn barrels are frequently used in rural areas. It is a convenient way of getting rid of a mess, but can result in smelly and dangerous air pollution.
A lot of plastics end up in the trash. Many plastics contain chlorine-containing compounds, such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Chlorine atoms makes plastics more rigid. Although they are very stable, they release very toxic compounds when burned, including various forms of dioxins. Smoke from burning trash may contain volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and other contaminants.
Hydrocarbons, burned in the presence of chlorine (from PVC, CPVC, and other plastics), can produce cancer-causing chemicals. Some of these chemicals contribute to hormone imbalances. Before air quality regulations, industrial pollution was biggest source of dioxin, and probably was a big contributer to cancer and other diseases. Today, manufacturing is much cleaner than before. Trash burning is now the largest source of environmental dioxin.
Almost all plastics contain chemicals that could be harmful. Flexible plastics and cosmetic products frequently contain phthalate, which disrupt hormones. BPA (bisphenol A) is a cause of cancer, heart disease, and other health conditions. Because of BPA’s health concerns, producers are starting to use other chemicals. However, BPA alternatives have not been tested for safety.
Pressure-treated wood should not be burned, because it contains high levels of arsenic. Some wood treatments use pentachlorophenol, which is very dangerous when inhaled.
Here in the southern USA, rural areas have relatively clean air, but high levels of PM2.5 air pollution. This means air contains a lot of very small particles (less than 2.5 microns). PM2.5 particles have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6138768/).
Consider ways to reduce your environmental impact:
Avoid disposable plastic food containers when possible. Buy products in bulk, to reduce the amount of packaging that is wasted. Buy reusable containers for storing food. Instead of buying bottled water, buy a good-quality reusable water bottle and a water filter.
Many plastics can be recycled. The recycle code printed on plastic products corresponds to the type of plastic. Find out of if recycling facilities exist in your area, and how to separate materials for recycling. Recycling takes time, but can reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill, or worse, the burn barrel.
If you have the space, consider composting your trash. A compost pile allows microbes to break down waste matter, turning it into fertile soil. Paper products, wood, and food waste can be composted. Any other trash should be disposed of in a proper manner. Find out about local trash disposal facilities in your area. Landfills are much safer for the environment. Some areas utilize trash incinerators (these are more common in Europe). Modern incinerators use a high-temperature combustion process and scrubbers to reduce air pollution.