Burning of waste ~ Not in my back yard!

The burning of waste is illegal and is subject to prosecution.

Burning of waste is not only a nuisance to neighbours; it can release many harmful chemicals into the air you breathe.  Many people may think that they are doing the right thing in reducing the amount of waste going to landfill and saving money but they are both causing long term environmental pollution and interfering with the lives of others living in their area.  Burning waste in your home or garden can damage your health, as well as that of your children and your neighbours.  Such illegal practices lead to the release of toxic dioxins which are a real hazard for peoples’ health and the environment.

Burning of waste is illegal ~ Credit Dept. of Environmental Conservation

Burning of waste is illegal ~ Credit Dept. of Environmental Conservation

In September 2009, a law concerning waste disposal by burning came into force. These regulations make explicit the offence of disposal of waste by uncontrolled burning and prohibits such disposal within the curtilage of a dwelling. If reported, there is a hefty fine to be paid but the threat of this hasn’t stopped the back yard burning of waste which is still the norm in some households across the country. The term ‘backyard burning’ also refers to the burning of any waste in open fires, ranges and other solid fuel appliances or in the open. It includes the burning of green waste and also to the burning of waste on building sites.

Why is it still a common place sight around the country? – are people not aware of the risks to their health and the damage caused to the environment, is it to avoid paying for regular waste collection services, do they believe they are reducing waste or is it just too inconvenient to separate waste and reuse or recycle it?  Years ago it was traditional to burn waste but today there is absolutely no excuse for it!

Stop before you strike that match! 

Photo Credit: www.wikihow.com

Photo Credit: www.wikihow.com

Today, bleached paper, plastic packaging or plastic products, and printed materials with glues, plastic coatings and coloured inks make up a large portion of society’s waste. When these items are burned in low temperature fires like those that take place in a backyard burn barrel, very high levels of toxic chemicals and fine particulate matter are released with the smoke. Many of these toxins don’t readily break down, leading to accumulation and persistence in the environment.

What harm am I doing I hear you ask!

Backyard burning is far more harmful to our health than previously thought. The compounds in the smoke that comes from the burning can increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema, and cause rashes, nausea, or headaches. Backyard burning also produces harmful quantities of dioxins, a group of highly toxic chemicals that settle on crops and in our waterways where they eventually wind up in our food and affect our health.

Burning of waste - not in my backyard

 Photo Credit:  chemicalfreelife.org

Sounds scary doesn’t it?  Well it is! And you need to STOP!


Studies have shown that only small amounts of chlorinated materials in waste are required to support dioxin formation when burning waste. This means that even when materials containing high levels of chlorine, such as PVC, are removed from household waste, burning the waste still creates dioxins because nearly all household waste contains trace amounts of chlorine.  Much of the dioxins created and released into the air through backyard burning settle on plants. These plants are, in turn, eaten by meat and dairy animals, which store the dioxins in their fatty tissue.

People are then exposed to dioxins primarily by eating the meat, fish, and dairy products, especially those high in fat. Backyard burning occurs most commonly in rural areas where dioxin emissions can more easily be deposited on animal feed crops and grazing lands. These dioxins then accumulate in the fats of dairy cows, beef, poultry, and pigs, making human consumption of these harmful chemicals is difficult to avoid.

Particle pollution

Microscopic particles with a diameter smaller than a human hair are released from back yard burning and pollute the air. Shutting the windows and doors of your home will not protect you from fine particle pollution because the particles are so small that they will infiltrate even the best quality double-paned windows and doors. These particles that are small enough to get into the lungs and can cause numerous health problems. Particles can aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis, and have been associated with heartbeat irregularities and heart attacks. People with heart or lung disease, the elderly, and children are at highest risk from exposure to particles.

Make clean air a priority!

Make clean air a priority!

Carbon Monoxide

Another major pollutant generated by backyard burning is carbon monoxide. At low levels of exposure to Carbon Monoxide, humans may experience a variety of neurological symptoms including headache, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Carbon monoxide  is a colorless, odorless gas emitted from combustion processes.  At extremely high levels Carbon Monoxide can cause death!


Backyard burning also produces ash residue, which can contain toxic metals such as mercury, lead, chromium, and arsenic.  These metals can be toxic when ingested. When a person ingests hazardous amounts of lead, for example, he or she may experience high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, kidney damage, and brain damage. Unaware of the potential danger, some people scatter the ash in their gardens or bury it on their property. Garden vegetables can absorb and accumulate these metals, which can make them dangerous to eat. Children playing in the yard or garden can incidentally ingest soil containing these metals. Also, rain can wash the ash into groundwater and surface water, contaminating drinking water and food.

What are the alternatives I hear you ask?

Avoid making waste in the first place and you won’t have to worry about disposing of waste or recycling it later. Changing your habits is the key — think about ways you can reduce your waste when you shop, work and play. There’s a ton of ways for you to reduce waste, save yourself some time and money, and be good to the environment at the same time.

Photo Credit: Backyard Burning  by Theodore W. Marcy,

Photo Credit: Backyard Burning by Theodore W. Marcy,

Follow these simple steps and STOP BACK YARD BURNING TODAY!

  • Avoid over packaged products and choose packaging that can be recycled
  • Separate your waste and if you don’t have a recycle bin take recyclable waste to your nearest Civic Amenity Centres
  • Compost Organic Waste
  • Use only Properly Permitted and Regulated waste collectors and waste facilities.

Does back yard burning still take place in your locality? What steps do you take to reduce your waste both at home and in the workplace?

Some other great blog posts worth reading on this subject:

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

A new breed of gangsters




Earth Day 2014 – Stand up for the future you deserve!

Earth Day 2014 is the 44th, since its inception in 1970, which was widely viewed as marking the beginning of the contemporary environmental movement.

Every year on April 22, over a billion people in 190 countries take action for Earth Day. Like Earth Days of the past, Earth Day 2014 will focus on the unique environmental challenges of our time. As the world’s population migrates to cities, and as the bleak reality of climate change becomes increasingly clear, the need to create sustainable communities is more important than ever.

Earth Day 2014

Earth Day 2014 will seek to do just that through its global theme: Green Cities. With smart investments in sustainable technology, forward-thinking public policy, and an educated and active public, we can transform our cities and forge a sustainable future. Nothing is more powerful than the collective action of a billion people.

Renewable and Sustainable Energy

Renewable and Sustainable Energy

As the global organizer behind Earth Day, Earth Day Network creates tools and resources for you to get involved with Earth Day in your community. The environment faces a multitude of challenges today. From climate change to species extinction, our planet and its inhabitants are continually facing man-made threats that must be averted. Lend your voice to a campaign, stand up for the future we deserve and help to work toward a sustainable future.

Earth Day 2014 Greening Cities limited edition poster

Earth Day 2014 Green Cities Campaign limited edition poster

Together we can make a difference!

Source: http://www.earthday.org/

Being Green – our generation didn’t have the green thing back then!!

The following piece ‘Being Green’ has been circulating on various social media platforms over the past few months and it really struck a chord with me. Like the woman at the checkout we didn’t have the ‘green thing back when I was growing up but everyday we were doing the ‘green’ thing without actually realising it.  Just take a few minutes to read it through and you too will see how easy it was, and still is to be green.

Being Green!

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman, that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.” The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.” She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Being Green - our generation didn't have the green thing back then!!

Old Cash Register ~ Photo Credit ~ South Park City Museum via www.tripadvisor.com

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were truly recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Being Green - our generation didn't have the green thing back then!!

We returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the shops

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags. But too bad we didn’t do the green thing back then.

Being Green - our generation didn't have the green thing back then!!

Brown paper bags were used to wrap groceries and then reused to wrap books

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Solar powered clothes dryer!

Solar powered clothes dryer!

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Being Green - our generation didn't have the green thing back then!!

A single radio to keep up with the daily news stories

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint. But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?

Being Green - our generation didn't have the green thing back then!!

No computers or electronic gadgets back then.

It struck me as I was reading it that life was so much simpler back then. I remember my mother washing out the milk bottles (the two in the photo escaped as I found them while doing a litter pick!), using brown paper to cover school books, washing the nappies by hand and we walked or cycled to the shops. My first introduction to typing was on the typewriter in the photo above (that’s not that many years ago!!). I remember strapping it to my bicycle and cycling four miles to the classes and back home again.

Whoever originally wrote this piece was right – we probably didn’t consume nearly as much oil/gas/electricity back then. However, it wasn’t because we were being ‘green’, it was more because technology hadn’t advanced far enough yet. What do you think? Were we being ‘green’ back then or was it just a way to make ends meet?

All photographs unless otherwise credited are copyright of Mary Gethings.

Local school bottles it!

Over the past few months the children of Scoil Naomh Maodhóg in Ferns, Co. Wexford have been busy collecting two litre plastic bottles to construct their latest eco-friendly project. The bottles have now found a new lease of  life as the school’s eco-friendly greenhouse.

Plastic bottle greenhouse

Preparing greenhouse for vegetable planting

The lids and labels were removed and the bottoms were trimmed to allow them to slot into each other to create a long tube. The tubes were then stacked side by side and secured into the timber  frame with wires spaced at intervals up the frame and roof.  The wires hold the bottle in place and it is the cross tie wire that binds it into a solid wall, closing most of the gaps.

This is the perfect project for schools as it is a great re-use educational structure that really works.

The school has a ‘green’ ethos that is to be admired and is working towards becoming a more environmentally friendly and sustainable school.  School projects to date include the creating of  raised flower and vegetable beds, wildlife garden and pond, a  newly planted woodland area, the erection of bird boxes, butterfly boxes and an insect hotel that are all tended by the children. They make their own compost and water the plants with the rainwater they collect.

Cold frame protecting the young plant

Coldframe made from old windows

The children are introduced to growing their own vegetables. They plant the seeds and wait patiently for them to germinate.  They are then planted out when weather permits and  each class take turns to water and keep them weed free. There is great excitement when its time to harvest the produce as they get to divide it and bring it home.

Last year the potatoes were harvested and the children cut them into chips. They were then brought to the local diner to be cooked. A very tasty meal was had by all!

Planting potatoes in one of the many raised vegetable beds

Pond and wild flower garden

A  long side the pond the children have planted a variety of nectar producing plants and shrubs to encourage butterflies and other nectar loving insects into the garden. Rough grass margins have also been successfully established and this provides an excellent habitat for many insects and is ideal for the newly-emerged frogs that are a great attraction for the children every year.

Native tree nursery

Last year the school  began the task of extending the existing Woodland area. It was decided to plant only native species to the area  so the children brought in tree sapplings from their own gardens and created a nursery. When they were strong  enough they were planted out in the well prepared area. Their aim is to create natural habitats so as to introduce various insects, butterflies and birds into the school grounds. The children have great fun walking through the Woodland, turning up stones and wood to see what insects are lurking beneath.

Newly planted woodland area


Mature woodland area rich in biodiversity


Birdboxes are placed in safe areas to attract birds to the school grounds


Butterfly boxes

Last year a Tidy Towns Junior Committee was formed. They are a great asset to the community as they are involved in keeping the school litter free, promote energy efficiency and recycling and reusing in the school. They were also involved with the development of the Community Park.  They were presented with an Endeavour Award  in recognition of their great work and achievements. They are busy planning some very exciting projects at the moment which are so top secret thet they won’t even divulge the details to the Ferns Tidy Towns Committee. May just watch this space!

Sensory garden and hopscotch area

Picnic Area in the Community park

Members of Junior Tidy Towns enjoying the end of year party organised by Ferns Tidy Towns Committee.

Junior Tidy Towns receiving their well deserved Endeavour Award

It is one of the most energy efficient schools in the area. Over the years the school has taken on projects such as upgrading their insulation, installing new windows and replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy saving light bulbs. The children have a great awareness of energy saving. Simple measures like turning off lights and closing doors when leaving a room help to conserve energy.


Dreaming of a Green, Green Christmas.

Christmas is a time of the year when lots of waste is generated and our energy consumption overall is greatly increased. It is a time for celebrations and with a little thought and imagination we can help reduce the environmental impact of the festive season.

Here are some Green Christmas tips that’ll help you to save money, reduce your Christmas carbon footprint and won’t cost the Earth!

Although plastic Christmas trees are reusable from year to year, real trees are the more sustainable choice. Plastic trees are made mostly of plastic and use up resources in both the manufacture and shipping. While artificial trees theoretically last forever, research shows that they are typically discarded when repeated use makes them less attractive. Discarded artificial trees are then sent to landfills, where their plastic content makes them last forever.

Live trees, on the other hand, are a renewable resource grown on tree farms, that are replanted regularly. They contribute to air quality while growing, and almost ninety percent are recycled into mulch. Live trees are usually locally grown and sold, saving both transportation costs and added air pollution.

Go to your local council’s website after Christmas for details on tree recycling and collection.

Visit your local garden centre and buy a live Irish grown tree in a large pot. This will allow you to reuse the tree for a few years without having to plant or re-pot the tree. If you have a spacious garden the tree can be planted out after Christmas where it can be enjoyed for many years and also help the environment.

LED Fairy Lights

We all like to decorate our Christmas trees and the exterior of the house with hundreds of those little twinkling lights and you don’t have to stop doing that to go green. However, you do need to replace those traditional Christmas lights from years past with the newest kid on the block – LED (light emitting diode) Christmas lights.

They use up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent Christmas lights. Beyond the decrease in energy usage, these LED lights produce very little heat which significantly reduces the risk of fire and they last about 10 times longer than traditional lights (about 200,000 hours).

Look for locally made gifts – many gifts today come from halfway around the world, and the impact of transportation, the raw materials, manufacturing ethics, use of toxic chemicals etc contributes significantly to greenhouse emissions and global warming. Local markets, craft fairs and artisan shops are a good source for gifts that come without the added costs of transportation.

Local markets and Artisan Food Shops

Choose gifts made from recycled sources – many individuals and small businesses have developed great products using recycled materials. Supporting these businesses helps reduce the waste stream while promoting the concept of making best use of available materials.

Why not consider the gift of a tree for someone special this Christmas.  Planting a tree can be a very touching gift as it will last a lifetime.  Trees are also very beneficial for the environment and help set off our carbon footprint.

Alternatively you may know someone who would like to start growing their own vegetables but just don’t know where to start.  By growing vegetables in your own back yard, you directly reduce the demand for produce shipped from remote locations and thereby, reduce your own carbon footprint. So, whether they have a sunny windowsill, a small back garden or a few acres why not contact Greenside Up in Carlow and Aisling Designs in Wexford who, with their expertise  can point them in the right direction to realise their dream.

Just imagine going out into your own garden on Christmas morning to harvest your own organically grown vegetables that ‘taste’ like vegetables should!

Eco friendly gift wrapping

Remember to wrap your gifts in an eco-friendly way and try to avoid using foil or plastic wrapping, plastic ribbons and sellotape. Try wrapping your presents in brown or recycled paper,  recycled foil or newspaper, and using string or raffia (made from bark which regenerates) to tie it up.  Better still find inspiration from things lying around the house and get creative. Wrap presents with old maps, calendars, the comics section of newspaper, or children’s artwork. Once you start looking at material as potential gift wrapping aids, the possibilities are endless.

‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly…..’

Candles add a lovely festive touch to the home. Paraffin candles are made from petroleum residue and are not good for your health or for the environment. Only buy candles made from soy, beeswax or natural vegetable-based wax are more eco-friendly because they biodegrade and are smoke-free.

‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly…’ Take a look around the garden and countryside and you will discover an abundance of natural materials to decotate your home.   Evergreens, berries, fruit, twigs, pine cones, holly, mistletoe, bark, and moss can all be used to create an amazing festive feel throughout your home.  Mantle pieces, door wreaths, centre pieces, swags, the list is endless, the list is endless and remember it won’t have cost the Earth!

Happy Christmas from Ferns

Sending Christmas cards to friends, family, neighbours and co-workers is a tradition in most Irish families. This year, try to buy cards that have been made from recycled paper or from sustainable forests or better still send an e-card where possible. The amount of cards sent every year places a huge demand on natural resources not to mention the transport emissions from moving these cards through the post!

Making homemade cards is a fun activity for the family. They may not be as professional as shop bought cards, but they are more personal and just as appreciated.

Instead of throwing the cards that you have received in the bin at the end of the season, recycle them or better still cut them up to make gift tags for next year’s presents.

Finally, buy cards from a charity that uses the funds to make a difference. Charity cards bought in major retailers do not raise a lot of cash for the charities whose names are on them. As little as 10 per cent of the sale price of some cards actually goes to the cause. If a card is bought directly from the charity, closer to 80 per cent of the total price goes to the charity.