Dioxins & why you dont want to be burning plastic

Dioxins & why you dont want to be burning plastic

The image shows plastic trash being burnt in Khatmandu

So, is it safe to burn plastic?

Well it never burns easily – it melts and bubbles.  It will burn eventually but you have to keep heating it – click here if you want to know why.
And, when you do set fire to plastic it gives off a terrible smell – at least in my experience, as a child, playing round the back of the derelict garages I hasten to add.
>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 …..it 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.”

PCBs? – thats a dioxin and dioxins are nasty! Eeek!

So, to conclude, it depends on the plastic then?

burning plastic burma

Setting fire to plastic filled ditches

Yes it is apparently safe to burn polythene – it can even be reprocessed as briquettes to  make a very efficient fuel (ifenergy).

But 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)
PVC
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 Organization 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

IN CONCLUSION

Its best not to be burning plastic on an open fire unless you know exactly what it is made up of.

There are some plastics that are supposed to be safe to burn.

Personally I won’t be burning plastic on my bonfire.

But is it safe to send off to my local waste disposal plant where they burn it in an 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.

For more information go to
Wikkipedia
Waste Plastic Blogspot about the technology behind waste incinerators.
Zero Waste America a crtiqua of waste incinerators.
Burning Bins the problems of trash being burnt on open fires

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.

Environmental Protection Act 1990

 

Comments

55 comments

  1. WASTE PLASTIC TECHNOLOGY

    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.

    1. Matt

      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.

      1. Matt

        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.

      2. polythenepam

        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.

        1. Matt

          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 energy..solar 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.

  2. polythenepam

    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.

  3. thegreenplanet

    -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

    THATS WAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU USE INCINERATORS

    1. Matt

      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:

  4. Name

    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

    1. midnightblue

      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!!!

  5. Darrin S.

    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.

  6. information

    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.

    1. no one

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

  7. john

    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…

  8. robert j

    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 apt.house.Now 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.

  9. Louis

    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?

    1. polythenepam

      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

  10. mathew

    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

    1. polythenepam

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

  11. Noreen

    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.

  12. Moni

    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.

    1. polythenepam

      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.

    2. Margaret

      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.

      1. polythenepam

        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.

  13. CHATTY

    FIRE CAUSING ( BURNED PLASTIC) SMOKE FUMES & CYANIDE:
    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.
    FYI: GET RID OF THOSE ADAPTERS THAT TURN ONE OUTLET INTO 3 OUTLETS!! THE CHIEF FIRE OFFICER SAID TO USE THE SAFER POWER STRIPS WITH SURGE PROTECTORS… THE ONES RECOMMENDED FOR COMPUTERS.

  14. polythenepam

    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.

  15. Susie

    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!

    1. ashutosh jha

      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”

  16. and more interesting eyelash curler information here

    I think everything published was very reasonable.
    However, what about this? what if you composed a catchier post title?
    I ain’t saying your content isn’t good, but suppose you added a title that makes people want more?
    I mean Dioxins & why you dont want to be burning plastic «
    Plastic Is Rubbish or the problems with man-made polymers is
    a little vanilla. You should glance at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create article headlines to grab viewers to open the links. You might add a video or a related pic or two to get readers excited about everything’ve got to say.

    In my opinion, it would bring your blog a little bit
    more interesting.

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    1. polythenepam

      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

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  20. Robert Burns

    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.

    1. kate

      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?

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