Backyard burning is fairly common in Idaho. In fact, many savvy recyclers see it as a way to keep waste from going to the landfill. In the hierarchy of waste disposal, however, burning falls BELOW landfilling waste.
Teton Valley Community Recycling encourages residents to recycle as much waste as possible, and to take the rest to the transfer station rather than burning it. Why? Because any manufactured material, including paper products, release dioxins into the environment when burned. Dioxins are harmful to human health when inhaled, and also when ingested.
Even when plastics and treated products are removed, there are enough trace sources of dioxin in household trash to be hazardous. These toxins aren’t always inhaled; once released in the air they eventually settle on crops and water, where they can be ingested. Because dioxins are stored in the fatty tissue of livestock and passed on to humans through meat consumption, rural areas like our own should be especially vigilant about backyard burning.
Safety is another concern with backyard burning. The Little Horsethief Canyon Fire in Jackson in 2012 serves as a reminder of what can go wrong. The fire cost $9 million to suppress, risked the lives of dozens of firefighters, and threatened homes. U.S. Forest Service investigations pointed to a backyard burn barrel on private property as the cause of the destructive blaze.
Burn barrels are also a hazard for our county employees. Embers can continue to smolder in them for weeks or months, starting fires at transfer stations when the ashes are dumped. Teton County and DEQ encourages residents to bring their waste and recycling to the transfer station instead of burning it. Recycling and sorted waste is free up to 350 pounds and can significantly reduce household waste, making proper disposal affordable for even the tightest budgets.
One final argument against burning is that it undermines recycling efforts. Why burn a product that could be made into something useful? Cardboard recycling brought over $13,000 in revenue to Teton County in 2012 and is set to earn even more in 2013. Would you burn dollar bills? Even brush dropped off at the transfer station can be chipped and sold.