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Burning rubbish in garden bonfires affects human health

27.05.2015

The rubbish burning test that was organised by the Ministry of the Environment in cooperation with the Estonian Environmental Research Centre (EERC) showed that burning waste in garden bonfires significantly impairs air quality in the form of carcinogens and negatively affects the human body.

Head of the Waste Department of the Ministry of the Environment Peeter Eek said that the topic of waste burning arises from year to year, especially in spring. “During spring cleaning, people often find that they should get rid of old things and unfortunately, it is frequently done by burning these at home. The correct and environmentally sound manner is to collect waste separately, meaning that paper and cardboard waste goes to a single container, deposit-subjected packaging to the collection point, packaging waste to the packaging containers, and waste that is left over from sorting and separate collection to the municipal waste container. Old furniture, construction and demolition waste can be taken to the waste management plant,” Eek said.

Eek added that according to the data of many waste management plants, one-third of the population of the region visits the waste management plants on a regular basis, one-third once or twice a year, and the last one-third have not heard anything of the waste management plants. According to Eek, the network of waste management plants is generally quite well developed, but unfortunately, they are often not found and wanted to be used enough.

Only impregnated wood or cardboard and paper that has been not covered with film are allowed to be burned in garden bonfires. “The burning temperature of such garden bonfires is not high enough, so there will be a cocktail of toxic substances in the flue gas resulting from combustion and therefore, it is not allowed to burn waste in bonfires,” Eek said.

The Chief Specialist of Air Quality Management Department of the Estonian Environmental Research Centre Marek Maasikmets said that the results of the test concerning the burning of waste in garden bonfires directly show that the concentrations of carcinogenic compounds are significantly higher when burning municipal waste than those of pure wood burning. Additionally, the results indicate that the amount of dioxin-type compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) increases more than two times as compared to the clean wood burning test. The level of dioxins in the smoke of waste bonfire was more than two times higher than the limit value established to the waste incineration plants, but it directly depends on the composition of the waste. Upon the incineration of certain types of plastic, the differences may occur outright in thousands of times.

The Estonian Environmental Research Centre estimates that almost half the private households make bonfires on their territory and a single household burns approximately 50 kilograms of waste a year.

On 21 April, the Estonian Environmental Research Centre carried out an experiment in the Väike-Maarja Rescue School, in the course of which it compared combustion products from burning untreated timber with the results of burning a mixture of waste and wood. The test was carried out under contained conditions.

The Ministry of the Environment continues with the awareness campaign that was launched last spring – “Säästad või saastad?” (“Saving or polluting?”) – in order to draw the attention of the residents to a safe bonfire making. The website of the campaign, www.lõke.ee, provides more information about the dangers of burning waste and the ecological waste handling.

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