Open Burning

Indiana rules generally prohibit open burning except for certain exceptions and IDEM encourages alternatives to open burning. Open burning is the combustion of any matter in the open or in an open dump.

Through studies, we have learned just how bad smoke can be for your health and the health of the environment. Many harmful chemicals are released in the smoke from fires. The smoke from burning trash, tires, plastic and other manmade items is especially toxic. Even burning clean wood and yard waste, including leaves, yields smoke that can harm human health, the community’s safety, and the environment.

Breathing in smoke is never good for you. To some, it may seem like a good idea to burn their trash rather than pay for trash pickup or disposal at a landfill. But it is illegal to burn trash. And anyone who burns trash, including household garbage, construction debris, or waste tires is creating a toxic situation.

Smoke from burning household trash, including plastic containers, is more toxic than the smoke from burning clean wood. Studies have found dioxins, arsenic, mercury, chromium, PCBs, lead, and other dangerous chemicals in smoke from burning household trash. Serious health effects can be caused by harmful chemicals from burning items commonly found in household trash. Protecting your health is worth the small fee for proper waste disposal and there are alternatives to burning.

  • Recycle household trash and appliances: Take recyclable plastic, aluminum, tin, glass, paper, and old appliances to your local recycler or community reuse center.
  • Properly dispose of construction debris: Except for clean wood scraps, construction debris should never be burned. Many construction materials release harmful chemicals when burned such as asbestos, heavy metals, and dioxins. Never burn asphalt shingles, gypsum board (drywall), painted, glued or treated wood, insulation or vinyl siding.

While Indiana regulations allow some types of residential open burning of clean wood in most areas of the state, many communities have adopted local ordinances to ban or restrict residential open burning. You should check with your local fire department, health department or city or county government officials to see if local bans or restrictions are in place.

Even if your community allows residents to burn leaves or other yard waste, it is never advised. The smoke from any fire, including clean wood can linger at ground level where family members and neighbors can be affected. Only burn leaves or yard waste if you have no other alternatives. If you must burn, use a well-vented container (a burn barrel is not well-vented) and only burn clean wood. A properly vented container keeps the fire under control while allowing oxygen to feed the flames and reduce excessive smoke. A screen on top can prevent ash and other debris from drifting into the air. Never burn on windy days. Have plenty of water on hand. Stop burning if someone complains. There are alternatives to burning yard waste.

  • Start a compost pile: To safely get rid of clean yard waste, brush and leaves, start a compost pile in your backyard or use your community’s composting program. Composting is like recycling for clean organic waste since it breaks down naturally over time. Maintaining a compost pile properly is a simple way to create rich, fertile soil for gardens and flower beds.
  • Borrow or rent a wood chipper: Chip branches and brush to create free wood chips and mulch for landscaping.

Besides limited burning of yard waste, Indiana allows burning of clean wood products and charcoal for the following types of fires.

  • Recreational or ceremonial fires: These include campfires and bonfires; however, the size of the fire is limited.
  • Barbecues: Barbecues using charcoal are allowed. Avoid using lighter fluid. Instead, use an electric lighter, charcoal chimney or newspaper as a lighting aid.
  • Maintenance burns: Some agricultural burning is allowed for maintenance on farms, orchards, nurseries, cemeteries and tree farms.

Remember to use dry, clean wood and natural kindling to start your fires. Never use gasoline, or treated lumber. Have plenty of fire-fighting equipment nearby. Be sure to check with your local fire department or health department about local rules you must follow.

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