Should we be burning plastic – that’s the burning question?

What chemicals are released when we burn plastic and what effect can each one have on our health?

Bonfire night on St. John's Eve
Bonfire night on St. John’s Eve

The weather has been great here in Ireland recently and I love the smell of the warm Summer air in the morning. On Tuesday morning when I stepped outside I did not get the smell I expected. It was a harsh, burning smell and it took me a moment to realise what it could be. The day before was 23rd of June and people around my area often celebrate St. John’s Eve by lighting bonfires and gathering the communities together. To be honest I had never heard of this tradition until I moved to Galway but I think it adds a lovely social element to the community. What I don’t like is the small number of people who use it to burn off their plastic waste… and that was the reason for the smell I got on Tuesday morning.

I should add, I am no saint myself… I have absent mindedly thrown the odd crisp bag or wrapper into the fire at home. What harm can it do, right? Well, I have done a little research and it can do a lot more harm than most of us might think.

The graphics below explain what chemicals are released when each of the seven plastic groups are burned, the effects these chemicals can have on our bodies and some very startling facts!



Bisphenol ABPA research articlesDioxinHydrogen Chloride in firesDangers of burning plastic and rubberHome burning of plastics and waste


If you want to find out more on this subject check out these great blog posts…

 Burning of waste – not in my backyard

A new breed of gansters.



Science blogger and writer; Owner of Dr. How's Science Wows; Mother of three junior scientists who have taught me that to be a great scientist you need to look at life through the eyes of a child!

9 thoughts on “Should we be burning plastic – that’s the burning question?

    • January 4, 2015 at 11:49 pm

      Thanks so much!

  • June 27, 2014 at 10:42 am

    What a brilliant info graphic Naomi. And the St. John’s Eve was a phenomenon when I came to Galway too! Lovely community thing, but turned into an annual burn-all-your-rubbish night 🙁

    • June 27, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Yes great idea Emily and probably works well in many communities but it is a shame when it turns into a rubbish burning event! And sooo dangerous!

  • June 26, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    Great post, great infographic – really brings it home. As an urban dweller in a very built-up estate, this is not something that I see around me, but I imagine it does go on all over the place.

    • June 26, 2014 at 11:58 pm

      Thanks Office Mum, yes, thankfully I have only noticed it on bonfire night but I have heard a lot of stories about it being a regular occurrence, some people see it as an easy way to get rid of their domestic waste!

  • Pingback: Eco Evolution BlogBurning of waste ~ Not in my back yard!

  • June 26, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    Gosh,we re so very good at finding ways to wreck our environment aren’t we? 🙁

    • June 26, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      Yes Aedin, it is scary really isn’t it!

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