Open Burning of Waste
What is it? When is it legal, and when is it a crime?
In the Fall each year, the number of complaints at County Departments regarding open burning of waste increases dramatically. People are spending more time outside and cleaning up their property. Some people are choosing to do so by burning the waste.
Open burning of waste is generally prohibited in the State of Illinois under Section 9 (c) of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act (Act). This section states, “No person shall cause or allow the open burning of refuse, conduct any salvage operation by open burning, or cause or allow the burning of any refuse in any chamber not specifically designed for the purpose and approved by the Agency (IEPA).”
“Open burning” is defined as “the combustion of any matter in the open or in an open dump.” “Refuse,” is defined as “waste,” or discarded material.
Section 9(a) of the Act states, “No person shall cause of threaten or allow the discharge or emission of any contaminant into the environment…so as to cause or tend to cause air pollution.” The Act defines “air pollution” as “the presence in the atmosphere of one or more contaminants insufficient quantities and of such characteristics and duration as to be injurious to human, plant, or animal life, to health, or to property, or to unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of life or property.”
The end of Section 9 of the Act states that the Section shall not limit the burning of landscape waste on the property where it was generated nor the burning of landscape waste at sites provided and supervised by any unit of local government located in a county with a population less than 400,000.
Section 9(c) of the Act allowed the Illinois Pollution Control Board to “adopt regulations permitting the open burning of refuse in certain cases if no harm will result from such burning, or if any alternative method of disposing of such refuse would create a safety hazard so extreme as to justify the pollution that would result from such burning.” The Board did so through Subtitle B, Part 237, which established specific regulations regarding open burning. These regulations again prohibit open burning, with the following exemptions, unless they cause air pollution, and if certain conditions are met:
-open burning of agricultural waste, domicile waste, and landscape waste;
-setting fires to combat or limit existing fires (ie. wildfires);
-burning fuels for legitimate campfire, recreational, and cooking purposes, or in domestic fireplaces;
-burning waste gases, such as in refinery flares; and
-small open flames for heating tar, welding and the like.
The conditions which must be met to allow for the open burning of agricultural, domicile, and landscape waste are:
1) The waste must be generated on the premises (i.e. cannot be hauled in from elsewhere);
2) Atmospheric conditions at the time of burning must readily dissipate the smoke;
3) The burning cannot take place in restricted areas or municipalities with burning bans;
4) The burning must not create a visibility hazard on roadways, railroad tracks and/or airfields.
5) The burning must not cause “air pollution.”
The Illinois EPA may grant permits for open burning if it serves the public interest, and the appropriate permit application is filed with and approved by them. Permits may be issued for the following activities: 1) fire fighting training; 2) burning landscape waste with an air curtain destructor; 3) in a disaster area – open burning of clean wooden building debris, landscape waste, and agricultural waste caused by a disaster.
Under no circumstance is “garbage” (“refuse derived from handling, processing, preparation, cooking, and consumption of food or food products”) or trade waste allowed to be burned. “Trade waste” is defined as “any refuse resulting from the prosecution of any trade, business, industry, commercial venture, utility or service activity, and any government or institutional activity, whether or not for profit.” Tires, pallets, insulation off of wire, and general construction and demolition waste, are examples of trade waste which are often burned illegally.
In practice, the Ogle County Solid Waste Management Department will investigate all complaints of dumping or open burning of waste in unincorporated areas of the county. Open burning of landscape waste on the property where it was generated in unincorporated areas is not a violation of state law as long as all previously described conditions are being met, and the burning is done at least 50 feet from the nearest residence. Common sense must also be used. Don’t leave a fire unattended, and don’t burn when your neighbors are having a picnic or hanging laundry out to dry!
The open burning of “domicile waste” (refuse generated on single family domiciliary property as a result of domiciliary activities) such as paper or cardboard, on the property where it was generated may not be a violation until someone complains about it. At that point it may be considered air pollution and may be subject to enforcement.
People involved in open burning of waste could face $500 administrative citations for dumping and burning waste, formal enforcement, criminal misdemeanor charges, or county ordinance violation charges.
In summary, the open burning of most waste is generally prohibited. There are better ways to manage the waste. Regular refuse pick-up and special small or large roll-off dumpster services are available throughout the county. IEPA permitted landfills and transfer stations are available in the region for those that wish to haul the waste themselves. Recycling services are also available throughout much of the county. Let’s keep our air clean and dispose of waste properly. For more information contact the Ogle County Solid Waste Management Department, 909 W. Pines Road, Oregon, IL 61061, (815) 732-4020.