So, is it safe to burn plastic? Well most plastics don’t  burn easily – it melts and bubbles.  It will burn eventually but you have to keep heating it. And, when you do set fire to plastic it gives off a terrible smell.

But is it bad for you? It could be lethal.

The smell according to the naked scientist could be anything. They say

“There are lots of different plastics, and they will give off lots of different vapours when they decompose.

It could be just a simple hydrocarbon, or it could contain cyanides, or PCB’s, or lots of other substances.  Without knowing what the plastic was … would be difficult to know what are the likely volatiles it would create…. volatiles given off from plastics in house fires are a major cause of death.”

So, to conclude, it depends on the plastic then. PLA plastic is it is claimed non toxic and safe to burn. Some oil based plastics like polythene are an efficient fuel and burns in the same way oil does. Not pleasant exactly but not exactly dangerous either. PCBs? – thats a dioxin and dioxins are nasty!

It’s a big NO if its a halogenated plastics, i.e one of those  made from chlorine or fluorine

Halogenated plastics include:
Chlorine based plastics:
Chlorinated polyethylene (CPE)
Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC)
Chlorosulfonated polyethylene (CSPE)
Polychloroprene (CR or chloroprene rubber, marketed under the brand name of Neoprene)
Fluorine based plastics:
Fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP)

Burning these plastics can release dioxins. Dioxins are unintentionally, but unavoidably produced during the manufacture of materials containing chlorine, including PVC and other chlorinated plastic feedstocks.
Dioxin is a known human carcinogen and the most potent synthetic carcinogen ever tested in laboratory animals. A characterization by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of cancer causing potential evaluated dioxin as over 10,000 times more potent than the next highest chemical (diethanol amine), half a million times more than arsenic and a million or more times greater than all others.

The World Health Organisation said “Once dioxins have entered the environment or body, they are there to stay due to their uncanny ability to dissolve in fats and to their rock-solid chemical stability.”

That is because dioxins are classed as one of the persistant organic pollutants, POPs, also known as  as PBTs (Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic) or TOMPs (Toxic Organic Micro Pollutants.)
POPs are a small set of toxic chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods and accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals. They are extremely toxic and cause all manner of illnesses. You can find out more about POPS here

The Uk Government states on their website “Burning plastic, rubber or painted materials creates poisonous fumes and can have damaging health effects for people who have asthmatic or heart conditions. This is covered under the Environmental Protection Act 1990

And in America Burn barrels have this to say… “Burning trash in a 55 gallon drum or in just a pile, often in the backyard, is a common method of solid waste disposal in some rural areas. Surveys have revealed between 25 and 50 percent of rural residences and farms may do backyard burning. Backyard burning is by definition “uncontrolled” burning and results in very high levels of toxic chemicals emitted in the smoke. Compared to municipal incinerators it takes place at much lower temperatures, with virtually no combustion air control, and with none of the very expensive high-tech pollution filtering apparatus required before the incinerator stack. Very high levels of toxic chemicals and particulates are present in the smoke from open burning of waste. These may cause acute respiratory and other health problems in those breathing the smoke. Burning plastics can be especially problematic, with PVC plastic in particular contributing to high emissions of dioxin.

SO, IN CONCLUSION, don’t burn plastic on open fires unless you know exactly what it is made up of..Identifying plastic is not always possible so while there are some plastics that are supposed to be safe to burn, I won’t be burning any on my bonfire.

And If you have been sniffing burning plastic fumes and are now feeling worried,  find out what kind of plastic it was and then track down the Material Safety Data Sheet. This will tell you everything you need to know.

Is it safe to burn plastic in my local waste disposal plant incinerator?

It is claimed that all plastics can be burnt safely  in the modern industrial incinerators – but only those built to high specifications. Opinions vary wildly as to wether this is the case with environmentalists saying we are poisoning the very air that we breathe.

Many of these plants generate electricity from the heat produced so in effect the plastic is recycled.

The resulting ash from incineration plants has to be disposed of and so presnets yet another waste disposal challenge.

You can read more about incinerating plastics and waste to energy plants here

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83 thoughts on “Dioxins & Burning plastic

  1. Last time I was in khatmandu it was awful. The combined pollution from vehicles and burning plastic made the experience extremely unpleasant. And I used to love khatmandu. So sad. I do worry that my travels through plastic burning, polluted cities will damage my long term health. Is It khatmandu where you will be based?

  2. I have just returned from a week in Nepal, where plastics are being burnt at an alarming rate and the air pollution is almost the worst oil the world, with an AQI of 200; I have a strange smell and taste which I cannot identify nor get rid of; like a volatile chemical in the skin of my mouth and nose, slightly sweet, more acrid, and it is affecting my ability to eat and to feel normal. I think it is probably one or more chemicals from the air pollution though it is hard to be specific. reading the research online supports the idea but nothing specific is there. It could be a benzene like chemical, who knows. The worry is should I return to continue the charity work that we went to do…..

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  4. I had a kitchen fire my plastic recycling burned up filled the house with thick black smoke. Everything was cleaned but when I use my stove the food makes me sick.

  5. The main cause of burning of polythene and other plastic products is the lack of education of policy makers as well as the people of third world countries. in order to save our environment the environment friendly groups (INGOs) and developed nations should be intervened in directing the government and nations of third world countries to take part actively in preserving the human friendly environment. if some organization helps me I would like to devote my time towards this direction

  6. What are chlorinated plastic bags? Are Polypropylene bags coming also under chlorinated plastic bags like pvc bags

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  8. I burnt some plastics in my oven and I had use a fire extinguisher to put it out. It produced thick black smoke and left the top of the oven black. I cleaned it by scraping it, using oven cleaner, a cleaner called awesome, and baking soda…I have left the oven on trying to burn off any residue left, there is still a lot of smoke. Do you have any suggestions? Please help

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  10. yes iam dearly irritated with the over whelming quantity of plastics in our environment and iam advocating for recycling,and reusing.

  11. Burning plastic releases less “toxins” than burning wood. Chlorinated Dioxin is released when you burn wood, but NOT when you burn type 1,2,4,5,6 plastics. We live in an environment saturated with the smoke and soot from a billion years of forest fires and a 100,000 years of human fires. To call the dioxins released from burning toxic flies in the face of reality. Burn all the plastic you want and don’t worry about it.

    “Burning 1 kilogram of wood produced as much as 160 micrograms of total dioxins. This result was obtained when various specimens of wood were burned in different stoves. Soot was collected and analyzed by well-designed and documented procedures. Tetrachlorinated, hexachlorinated, heptachlorinated, octachlorinated dioxins were present. The isomers of the dioxins were separated and quantitated. The highly chlorinated dioxins were the major components. In the soot from a series of experiments, their total content ranged from 10 to 167 mg/kg of fuel. The total yields of tetrachlorinated dioxins (TCDDs) ranged from 0.1 to 7.8 mg/kg of fuel.”
    [Science, Vol. 266 Oct. 21, 1994,T.J. Nestrick and L.L. Lamparski, Anal. Chem. 54, 2292 (1982)].

  12. What about burning High Density Polyethelyne (milk jugs) in a burning pit outdoors?
    Does it also require “restarts” in the process with an addition of a fuel such as gasoline?
    What about worn out shoes with leather tops but “manmade” material for the soles?

  13. here in cape fair Missouri somebody is burning plastic n toxins n chemicals n he says the state allows it I can barely breath n the valley is covered in black smoke I just want to know if this is the truth

  14. The high specification incinerators can it is claimed deal with halogenated plastics. Rather they can scrub the smoke clean. The ashes are still toxic and still have to be specially disposed of. So many say it is safe to incinerate these types of plastic. However this claim is violently disputed by (some) environmentalists. Both sides talk a lot of science and it depends whose facts you believe. Other types of plastic are cleaner to burn, (in the way that burning oil is clean i.e. not very), but all burning adds to global warming so how safe is safe?

  15. Per cubic feet, if one were to burn plastic, it would be hard for all those people with cubed feet to run thru all that melting plastic. : /

  16. Yes Jeff Seller we understood u like plastic burning smell and you r eating plastic ,you like to drink melted plastic etc….. That’s why FUCKER YOU HAVE NO BRAIN.. YOUR BRAIN IS LIKE MELTED PLASTIC …put a big plastic bottle in ur Ass hole.

  17. Hi Tom going to try and reply again…… In China – internet is not ….easy. Thanks for the info. I need to read more about the latest developments. Thanks for dropping by.

  18. An excellent example ifsthe Minneapolis Downtown Incinerator which serves the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council. Hundreds of truckloads of rubbish are daily converted from waste to energy. Critical to generating enough heat to burn the wet rubbish is plastic industrial waste-like pallet stretch film which acts like bricks of coal. The scrubbers on the smoke stacks are so effective the new Twins Ballpark was built adjacent to the plant. The steam created provides the heat in winter/and air conditioning in summer needed for the skyscrapers located in the central business district. .

  19. Yes the get out time is shorter now due to synthetics that a) burn super fast b) release toxic fumes. Yuck!

  20. Interesting. But while one of the components of plastic is (like petroleum), oil derived, the additives mixed in with it are what causes the problems. While some plastics are (it is claimed), safe to burn others are most certainly not. Please be careful and make sure you know which plastic is which. Thanks for commenting.

  21. Very few people realizze that plastic is a form of petroleum….yet we use petroleum jelly on our face and skin as a softener. Our municipality just dumps our plastics in the rivers in India and I’ve see videos where birds eat this plastic thinking it is food and die from it. Since then I’ve been burning my thin plastics and other plastic wraps on food mixed with paper and cardboard waste. However I burn it FAST, within a few minutes, adding a little kerosene if the weather is damp….The thick plastic, I know gets recycled (PVC) etc..the recyclers come to the door….My organic waste goes into my compost bin….I’ve not experienced any headaches, breathing or lung problems because of this quick burning of plastics…I know that cars put out way more dangerous carbon monoxide that binds quicker with the lungs than oxygen and are way more dangerous but no one is ready to give up the car….
    Better to burn your plastics QUICKLY with an inflamant than leave it to be dumped into water bodies that eventually take it to the sea and kill beautiful birds in remote islands that had nothing to benefit from them but death and extinction.

  22. I burn plastic everyday in my wood stove. creates more heat than wood anyway. Besides. saves alot of trips to the dump.
    PLASTICCCCCC nom nomn nnom nom nom nom.. “Thats what my wood stove says”

  23. I have found it hard to source reliable data on this subject. For instance

    Polyethylene terephthalat PET or PETE plastic code 1 is made from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, just like paper.

    It is claimed that, just like paper, it can be safely burnt and will only produce carbon dioxide and water leaving no toxic residue.

    I came across this nuggets out there in google land and as you know panning in tham thar rivers often finds you only fools gold.

    So lets see if I am richer than Midas or talking through my arsk no questions.

    Google MSDS followed by the product name ie MSDS Polyethylene terephthalat

    This pulls up the Material Safety Data Sheet for PET
    Solid pellets with slight or no odor. Spilled pellets create slipping hazard. Can burn in a fire creating dense toxic smoke. Molten plastic can cause severe thermal burns. Fumes produced during melt processing may cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation.
    Secondary operations, such as grinding, sanding or sawing, can produce dust which may present a respiratory hazard. Product in pellet form is unlikely to cause irritation.

    You can do this for all the plastics you burn though it will only apply to the material not any inks or anything else used.

    Hope that kind of helps?

  24. I would like to think that I have been responsibly burning plastic in my fireplace for home heating in the winter. I know from extensive web research that that burning PVC (plastic containing chlorine) Recycle code #3 & fluorine presumably included in Recycle code #7 (Other Plastics) is a big NO! health hazard. So common sense would dictate that recycle code plastics numbered #1, #2, #4, #5 & #6 would be safe to burn in my fireplace as long as regular maintenance is done with a creosote burning log. Any knowledgeable guidance would be appreciated.

  25. Yup – in Goa there are hundreds of people doing yoga by the smouldering rubbish dumps…hmmm…

  26. and I couldnt go diving without plastic either.It’s not a case of no plastic – just lets use it better.

  27. we should know more about recyling , plastic is not bad but we should choose we use or abuse. you know the world maximum pollution is happening due wastage from industries. you know plastic is material which has improve the quality of life. without plastic we cant imagine such a zesty comfy life……………….
    “can u imagine life without plastics”

  28. You are the biggest jerk in the world – telling people to burn plastic – even it is meant as a joke, it is NOT funny – the smell of burning plastic can KILL. Do not listen to Jeff Eller because he is an idiot!!!

  29. I too am worried as we almost certainly are being exposed to dioxins – which is not good news. I do think that many plastics are useful but we do not needto be using these “poison” plastics. There are perfectly good alternatives – just not quite as cheap. I love a bargain but this is not the time for being cheap.Have a look at the greenpeace campaign to phase out PVC.They have some really good stuff there. Thanks for dropping by

  30. You are so awesome! I do not suppose I’ve read a single thing like this before. So great to discover someone with original thoughts on this issue. Really.. thanks for starting this up. This web site is one thing that is required on the web, someone with some originality!

  31. er thanks – dont really know what to do about that but then I hardly know how to post a post!

    Nice of you to drop by.

  32. Beyond what I said before. Waste to energy comes down to a having a fuel to turn a shaft on a electric motor creating electricity. It can be done a few ways.

    The debate is complicated and we can debate what the advantages of farming a pulsar’s energy to a locomotive’s steam engine benefits, but …whatever.

    Burn a fuel to heat water to create steam and pressure that turns a shaft on a generator that creates power. Hoover dam over simplified, with a water fall’s kinetic energy as opposed to the potential steam benefits through incineration.

    To answers your question, waste to energy is 2 parts. The power part is easy. The fuel part is the problem. Take age old incineration and combine it with clean air concerns. We would have all the resources we would need to get us through the fog of transition, weighing the balance of clean air and solid waste and the ability for us to store and process solid waste and meet government requirements.

    So in summary, Waste to energy is Diesel to energy…. Sun to energy…. Wind to energy….Geothermal to winds to energy…lasers to energy..gravity to energy…it’s air conditioners compressing gases that yield an unknown benefit when expanding… cold air.

    See where I am going, don’t be a hater. 😉 love the waste…clean the air.

  33. Thanks for contributing – I want to know a lot more on waste to energy – any sources you reccomend reading? Has to be on the net I am a long way from home and a library.

  34. Also,

    With Pyrolytic Incineration the ash is quite inert and would meet USDA criteria for sterilized waste at the minimum.

    With a wet scrubber air borne material is captured.

    Plasma enhanced melting requires too much energy and has a waste reduction of maybe only 50% which ends up a non-marketable product, where as the above has about 85% reduction and is safe for landfill. Recyclable metals are recoverable from the ash.

  35. With Pyrolytic Incineration the ash is quite inert and would meet USDA criteria for sterilized waste at the minimum.

    With a wet scrubber air borne material is captured.

    Plasma enhanced melting requires too much energy and has a waste reduction of maybe only 50% which ends up a non-marketable product, where as the above has about 85% reduction and is safe for landfill.

    Reference above:

  36. You are both right.

    Incinerating plastics is bad
    incinerating plastics is safe.

    You can incinerate plastics, and more, if you incorporate a wet scrubber. Emissions are sent though a water bath and that water can be treated at a waste water plant. The machine can be regulated by EPA, and provide waste to energy.

    It costs 3 million and it’s worth it. All get on board please. Regulation costs. The solution is savings to all kinds of government and business and is a blessing to people who don’t want to inhale pcb’s and dioxins..

    Simplest response.

  37. Sorry to hear of your trouble.It is really unpleasant to live with. In India they burn the rubbish in the evening and the smell of burning lastic it is vile. I dont even want to think what I am breathing in.
    So sad. Sorry you have to live with it in America where you would think people would be more aware of the issues and there are suitable alternatives for waste disposal.

  38. We have a neighbor like that as well. 10 years ago with two children under the age of 2 we moved here to the country. It is the worst air quality of anywhere I have lived, including NYand SF. We had to evacuate our children many times when the noxious gas came in through tiny air gaps then spent years detecting and plugging them. The Dept. of Environmental Protection couldn’t help us, the local govn’t which had an ordinance refused to enforce it. Finally PA made the type of outdoor boiler he uses illegal to burn(Smolder!) coal and everything else but grandfathered him so he can keep it!!!!!!!! Wow, my kids and I must be working off some heavy karma. Trying to send this guy light and love but it’s really hard when he’s ruining our lives.

    I don’t know much about most of what you all are talking about, but just a piece of info I learned yesterday from a Sr Fire Investigator, here in Henderson, NV, who came out to my house yesterday (5/23/12 @ about 4 am) to investigate a fire in my home. It started from an electrical 3-plug plastic outlet adapter made of plastic. As I was putting out the fire of this burning plastic adapter, I breathed in it’s smoking chemical fumes… He mentioned that many are manufactured with plastics that contain cyanide. He says it’s no surprise that I say I am feeling like a severe asthmatic with a hoarse throat, cough and deep nasty phlegm that has a strange taste to it. I’m also very tired, have a headache, some confusion, very sore eyes, and may go get an XRay of my lungs if I continue to feel worse tomorrow. When I read up a bit on cyanide, I learned that in WWI it was used as a chemical weapon!! I also learned it was effective because of it being a lethal, fast-acting poison. Just thought I’d share.

  40. I am sorry to hear that. Perhaps your neighbour is not aware of the potential dangers. After all plastic has been sold to us all as a cheap and safe product and disposing of it is difficult. Maybe he sees this as a necessary evil. However with some good info on the problem you may be able to convert him. Good luck and try to avoid explocives and furnaces.

  41. I have a neighbor who burns his trash in one of those outdoor “wood burners” that heats his home. It makes me cringe and cry every time I see the blue-green-brownish clouds of poison spreading over our hillside where my animals are grazing. Then it comes toward our house and over to our other neighbors as far as the eye can see. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was THIS bad….puluting our soil and water too! And we moved out to the country to be in a healthier enviorment. I know that he has no clue what he is doing. That is why I am searching for info to print out and share with him in as kind of a way as I can, when on the inside I am so fureous I want to blow up his wood furnace!!!!! Thanks for the enlightenment.

  42. incinerators do not hold in gas, so it is not safe to burn plastic. Only in a safely engineered recycle plant, as long as any odors or gasses caused by melting the plastics are withheld from public air.

  43. Thnaks for dropping by – I agree with you – its dangerous and a huge waste of resources. In short I dont like it.

  44. Burning plastic is like inviting disasters to you, your family, the society and humanity as a whole.

    It pollutes the air, water, soil and our food supply. Everybody please keep away from burning plastics. Save yourselves, your loved ones, the world at large from cancer to global warming.

    thank you

  45. well that really is the problem – there is no easy way to dispose of plastic and, unless you can be sure what is in the plastic you are burning, burning can be a lethal solution as it releases dioxins – a powerful carcinogen. The best solution is to reduce the amount of plastic waste created – I know – easier said then done … and that why I boycott the filthy stuff

  46. Hello. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya, and I am working with environmental conservation. Here, people burn their trash and sometimes that trash is plastic (people also cut the nearby trees to burn and make charcoal to sell, but that’s another issue).

    Without access to a massive incinerator, what would you suggest for plastic waste disposal?

  47. you have a good argument but calling anyone a ‘retard’ practically nullifies your credibility. i suggest using the word ignorant instead of ‘retarded’

  48. i have a landlord that brings his garbage bags full of allsorts of plastics,cans,paper,once found small paintcan,and he stuffsit in a homemade topload stove that sits in the living room of this the landlord has a buddy to help burn the **** and its been choking,alot in the winter.I replaced the exhustpipe,since it hade holes allover it and asked for it to be stoped,almost lost my room over it,and yet it continues.what should i do?the buddy keeps saying,what are ya going ta do about it.Who can be turned to for help in stoping it whithout the loss of my room?the buddy is trying to run me off so it can be unchallanged,the manager is in onit aswell,people are scared of losing there rooms if they standup against the burning.

  49. My neighbor burns plastic garbage, I can smell it when he does. It is quite infuriating to know it could contain dioxin and be more lethal than arsenic. if you were to come in contact with even minute concentrations you would be in danger of serious health risks. We’re talking about 100 parts per billion, maybe less…

  50. There is a big need for more websites that talk about the harmful effects of burning plastic bags. DIOXIN may harm not only the idiots that sit there burning the plastic bags, but it also is harmful to others, who happen to be in the vicinity of where the plastics are being burned. Not to mention, if you’re doing it outside and allowing the chemicals to drop down to the ground, you are more then likely contaminating the soil where these toxins fall. Most plastic bags are made of human manufactured oils, and when these oils are caused to burn, DIOXIN is released into the air. That stuff causes many harmful side-effects.
    So then, Why have I seen at least three Youtube videos of teen boys burning plastic bags? To me that’s almost like watching these boys slashing their veins in front of the Youtube camera. And these boys are giggling their butts off like those retarded characters from “Bevis and Butthead”. There is NOTHING funny about this stuff! Plastic makes noises when it melts. But it’s hardly funny. If they want to amuse themselves with funny noises, why not just lock themselves in a room and make fake farting sounds with their mouths, instead? These uneducated, retards are exactly the types of people that the FDA
    targets. It probably started with their Mom and Dad, who consumed everything approved by the FDA, thus everything toxic. It caused slight mental retardations in them which they passed onto these kids. But as these kids were growing up, they also consumed all the stupidity causing toxins that FDA keeps shoving down everyone’s throat. It’s no wonder they are so highly retarded! This is the sad future of America.

  51. This is certainly Great knowledge having writing and all thanks to aol search engine pick up me on here. I loved reading your post and added to the bookmarks. The ideas you used to put up was clearly understandable. My husband also appreciated after reading this post. Let me go through for more earlier.

  52. Keep burning plastic. It tastes good… The smell is beautiful. It’s completely SAFE!

    The government guarantees it is as safe as our vaccines or apples or anything else regulated. America is the safest country to live in. Our government cares about our health and well being.

    God bless America and keep burning plastic! It heats up better than wood or paper anyway and can help start a fire better for inside your home.

    Vote for Obama!
    ~Jeff Eller

  53. -air emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, chlorine, dioxin and fine particulates
    -emissions of greenhouse gases of CO2 and nitrous oxide (N2O)
    -ash which remains after incineration needs to be disposed of and can be toxic


  54. The information up here is from Wikipedia should you care to challenge it. It is backed up by a range of groups from public information posts advising farmers not to burn plastic etc in backyard fires to less nuetral organisations such as Greenpeace.

    Burning plastic waste correctly or otherwise has long been a concern for many including the waste disposal industries as illustrated in their redesign of facilities to accomodate difficult products. Wether they can do so safely is still being debated by numerous concerned individuals. I put in links to two posts that illustrate the different sides of the argument. One of which was yours. Please note that I did not comment on the issue.

    And while the new incincerators may be able to burn plastic waste safely, many waste disposal facilities in many countries do not have that capacity. Many communities as I sure you already know rely on backyard bonfires to get rid of waste.

    You seem to be guessing that I am a vegan and suggesting that my lack of meat protein some how affects the information I am conveying. A remarkable argument and I would very much like to see your research prooving that point re vegans that is. In my case you dont have to guess – the most cursery perusal of my blog would show that I do eat meat – just not meat that comes wrapped in cling film.

  55. Well how little you know. Take a good read and if unsure take a very good look at the 3 independent reports that debunk your comments. Obviously you are unfamiliar with the range of plastics and their properties as well as technology that can reduce the burn below that of Natural Gas. With your comments it would be assumed you suggest that Natural Gas should also be curtailed? Just guessing but Vegans are great people except they never intake the correct proteins and bark their superiority of health to everyone. Burning plastics, including dirty plastics (up to 16% excepting PVC) is quite safe if done correctly in respect to any other burning of fossil fuels or otherwise. If you can beat the emissions standards let everyone know and if not well, beats spreading plastic granules in road beds where it is never removed, oh at least for 4 thousand plus years.

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