Alternatives to burning
Before burning anything, always consider alternatives. Open burning of materials other than clean wood and some yard waste is prohibited. In addition, outdoor burning of anything generates smoke and air pollution and is the number one cause of wildfires. The good news is there are many ways to dispose of waste materials and avoid open burning to protect our health and the environment better.
Refer to each tab on this page to understand the composition of your waste and to learn about the non-burning disposal options available for the waste you generate. Most importantly, make the choice to do something other than burning.
How to Avoid Burning Garbage
Common household garbage items include paper, wood, plastic bottles, steel or aluminum cans, furniture, electronics, appliances, food scraps, metal, foam, pallets, motor oil, batteries, tires, paint cans, vinyl, fabrics, rubber, plant trimmings and more.
It is possible to reduce the amount of household waste generated in the first place by buying in bulk or buying products with less packaging, considering the lifespan of your products and choosing products with longer lifespans, selecting reusable instead of single-use items or choosing to repair an item rather than replacing it.
For household waste that must be disposed of, consider the following non-burning disposal options.
Contact your local recycling program representative to learn about how your community's recycling program works. Learn more about Wisconsin recycling requirements.
Learn how to compost at home. Also, consider contacting your local UW-Extension office for composting tips and tools. A few Wisconsin municipalities also have opportunities for composting food waste and other household materials in addition to yard waste. When using these programs, always follow the program-specific information on acceptable materials.
Landfill or Trash Collection Services
Many communities provide trash collection services. Check with your local municipality to find out more. If you need collection services, large-item pick-up or a dumpster, visit the DNR's list of licensed solid waste haulers.
Donate or Repurpose
Many options are available for donating, selling or upcycling items you wish to get rid of. Consider holding a rummage sale, posting the item for sale in your community or online, looking for a local donation center or searching for project ideas online.
How to Avoid Burning Vegetative Yard Waste
Common vegetative waste items include leaves, brush, pine needles, plant clippings, slash, grass, stumps, garden debris and trees.
For vegetative waste that must be disposed of, consider the following non-burning disposal options.
Leave it in Place
Leaving your grass clippings and leaf debris in place can be a good nutrient addition for your soil. To learn more about when leaving yard waste in place is beneficial, read the Yard Care Do Your Share brochure (WA-073).
Many local governments provide either collection or drop-off services for your vegetative waste. They may process this material by composting, chipping or landspreading the material on agricultural property, or even safely burning some material as a licensed woodburning facility.
Note: While municipal management by composting, chipping or landspreading is always preferred to open burning of vegetative waste, managing brush through burning at the municipal or large-scale level is preferred to you burning vegetative waste at home. Municipalities need to be licensed as solid waste woodburning facilities, which have additional fire protection rules and setbacks to households. Additionally, burning in a larger pile allows the brush to be burned at a higher temperature, which leads to more complete combustion and less air pollution.
Contact your local municipality for information about the services they provide or consult DNR's list of licensed facilities to find the compost and woodburning facilities in your area.
Compost at Home
Using as Habitat for Wildlife
Managing yard waste for animal habitat can provide a resource for many animal species. Find out how to manage your debris to support animal habitat by reading DNR's Critter Condo (WM-222) and Rabbitat (WM-221) publications.
For large amounts of wood waste, consider contacting a professional wood waste chipper. Wood waste chippers typically have options for either dropping off the material at their facility or picking up the material at your location. They are able to sell the chipped wood as landscaping mulch, boiler fuel, animal bedding and erosion control materials.
How to Avoid Burning Construction and Demolition Waste
Common construction and demolition waste include plastics, siding, flooring, piping, foam insulation, plastic wraps, clean wood, treated wood, painted wood, asphalt shingles, paint, metal, brick and concrete.
It is possible to reduce the amount of construction waste generated in the first place by buying the correct amount of materials for your project, buying materials in bulk or with less packaging and repurposing demolition materials for new construction projects.
For construction and demolition waste that must be disposed of, consider the following non-burning disposal options.
Construction and demolition waste can be brought to a recycling facility specifically for these materials. To find construction and demolition recyclers in the state, visit DNR's list of licensed solid waste facilities; under the "facility type," select "solid waste processing facility," and in the “wastes handled” column, search by "W175 Construction Material" or "W220 Demolition."
Construction and demolition waste can go either to a construction and demolition waste landfill or to municipal solid waste landfill. To find the closest landfill to you, use DNR's list of licensed solid waste facilities.
Construction and Demolition Waste Hauler
Construction or demolition waste haulers can help manage the transport and disposal of waste materials for you. Find the list of licensed construction and demolition waste haulers by going to the DNR's list of licensed transporters; in the “wastes handled” column, search by "W175 Construction Material" or "W220 Demolition."
Separate Clean Fill
Brick, building stone, concrete and reinforced concrete not painted with lead-based paint, broken pavement and wood that is not treated with preservatives or lead-based paint can all be used as fill material without approval from the DNR.
Donate or Repurpose
Many donation options are available specifically for demolition materials. Search online for home improvement specific donation organizations in your area.
How to Avoid Leveling Structures by Burning
Common structures include houses, barns, sheds and chicken coops.
For waste from structures that must be disposed of, consider the following non-burning disposal options.
Disassembling a structure by doing the construction in reverse allows you to keep more material in a reusable state and keep materials separate for recycling or proper disposal.
Prior to demolishing a structure, learn about the DNR's requirements for notification and hazardous material removal.
Fire training burn
Structures may be burned for fire department training purposes. This may be a safe and legal way to demolish a structure that you no longer want on your property. There are requirements for preparing a structure before a fire training burn is conducted. If a structure is needed for training purposes already, it may be an efficient way for a structure you no longer want to be razed. Refer to the information on the Fire depts. tab of the Know before you burn page and read Fire Training Burn Guidelines for more information.
How to Avoid Burning Agricultural Plastics
Common agricultural plastics include film and bags for silage, hay bags, silo covers, greenhouse covers, bale wrap and horticultural mulch, as well as containers for pesticides, nursery pots or flats, row covers and woven tarps.
Burning of plastics is strictly prohibited. Be proactive about keeping your agricultural plastics clean. There are options beyond landfill disposal if the materials can be kept relatively dirt and rock free. It is possible to keep plastics clean by trimming back plastic as the material they are covering is used and keeping plastic from the side or top separate from the dirt contaminated bottom plastic. Reuse plastic materials when possible.
For agricultural plastics that must be disposed of, consider the following non-burning disposal options.
Wisconsin recycling infrastructure for flexible agricultural plastics or agricultural bag and wrap plastics is growing. To find more about recycling options that will provide you with an ag plastic dumpster and collection or drop-off programs, contact your local UW-Extension office.
Landfill or Trash Collection Services
If you need to order your own collection services or dumpster to dispose of agricultural plastics, visit DNR's list of licensed solid waste haulers. If you wish to dispose of agricultural plastics with your regular trash collection, trim the agricultural plastics in increments so the plastic can be added to your regular collection without having to schedule an additional dumpster pick-up.
Take used containers with leftover chemicals to an agricultural "Clean Sweep" site or event in your area. To see when a Clean Sweep event will be held in your area and to learn more about what is accepted at Clean Sweeps, visit the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's Clean Sweep page.