Burning Garbage is Dangerous

Last week, one of my friends threw a Styrofoam take-out container into a campfire. I immediately tried to fish it out which prompted my friend to immediately look up on her iPhone whether it’s okay to burn Styrofoam.

She discovered that it isn’t safe to burn Styrofoam or any other plastics. Plastics only partially burn in the temperature range of a typical campfire. That means particles different from the original material are put into the air you breathe or in the ash. For Styrofoam, these particles are forms of styrene, a carcinogen.

Pollutants from burning plastics such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and furans are released into the air and eventually land on crops and water sources. These particles don’t break down readily and eventually end up in the meat and fish we eat. Exposure to these pollutants can cause heart disease, respiratory and nervous system problems, kidney and liver damage, as well as reproductive issues.

It’s unlawful in Oregon to burn any type of waste, including asbestos, plastics, tires, yard debris and kitchen waste. In addition, it’s especially unwise to burn trash in an indoor wood stove or fireplace where exposure to fumes and ash is that much more concentrated. For more information you can visit the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality website for more information.

Jesse Peralta

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