Burning waste

Controls on burning waste in the open


Burning waste in the open can cause air, land and water pollution and so needs to be controlled to limit this risk. You should find alternative methods of waste management wherever possible.

Burning waste may release harmful gases, grit and dust. Residues of harmful chemicals such as lead paints, tars and oils that remain in the ashes can be washed into the ground by rain. This may lead to contamination of the soil, groundwater and surface waters.

Waste management licences for burning waste

If your business burns waste in the open, such as on a bonfire, you may need a waste management licence or a registered waste exemption. You must have the correct permissions before you burn waste and you must make sure that burning the waste does not create pollution or cause a nuisance.

In some cases, burning waste is forbidden. For example, you may not be allowed to burn waste in an area with poor air quality.

Burning waste plant tissue and untreated wood

You may qualify for a waste exemption from waste management licensing to burn certain waste plant tissue and untreated wood if you burn no more than 10 tonnes in a 24-hour period at the place where it was produced. You must register this paragraph 30 exemption with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). If you have an exemption, you must comply with the exemption conditions.

You must ensure that your activity does not:

  • endanger human health or risk harm to water, air or soil
  • risk harm to plants or animals
  • cause a noise or odour nuisance
  • adversely affect the countryside or places of special interest

Read about the paragraph 30 exemption for burning waste on land in the open.

Burning construction waste

You must not burn waste on a construction site unless you have a pollution prevention and control permit, waste management licence or a registered waste exemption that covers the activity.

Burning farm waste

You must not burn non-natural farm waste, such as plastic and tyres, in the open. You are no longer allowed to use a drum incinerator to burn agricultural or veterinary containers that are contaminated with pesticides or other toxic substances.

You can burn some waste, including plant tissue waste and untreated wood, in the open. However, you may need to register a paragraph 30 waste exemption for this activity with NIEA.

Burning straw or stubble in the open is strongly discouraged. If you have no other alternative then you will be allowed to burn straw or stubble only if you have registered an exemption with NIEA and follow Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA) guidelines.

Normally, you must not burn animal carcasses in the open. You can only burn carcasses if you have permission from DAERA. Permission may be granted in certain circumstances, such as when a disease outbreak occurs.

Dark smoke restrictions

You must not cause or allow emissions of dark smoke from your site.

There are some exemptions from this requirement, but only if your activities won't cause emissions that could damage health or cause a nuisance. Materials that are likely to emit dark smoke when burned include:

  • tyres and other rubber-based products
  • plastics such as polystyrene
  • cable and wires with plastic insulation covering
  • oils and paints