Violating a county burn ban can result in a fine and/or jail time; some counties have stiffer penalties than others. But open burning always has negative effects on our environment, even when we are not living in a tinder box.
Burning household waste and most other types of debris is against Arkansas law. Outdoor burning generates particulate matter, a pollutant that Arkansas must limit in order to meet national air-quality standards. Smoke can lead to health problems for people with asthma and other respiratory ailments and cause eye irritation. Household wastes usually include plastics that emit harmful chemicals such as dioxins into the environment when burned. Burning old pressure-treated wood releases arsenic into the smoke and ash. These chemicals pollute air, water and soil.
There is no state law against on-site burning of yard waste (grass clippings, leaves and limbs) when there is not a burn ban in effect, but it may be illegal in some municipalities. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality encourages residents to consider alternatives to burning yard waste because, even though it doesn't release the toxins that some household wastes do, it does release carbon dioxide and can have a negative effect on our air quality. And there is always the risk that fire will get out of control. Debris burning is the leading cause of wildfires in Arkansas, according to Sheila Doughty of the Arkansas Forestry Commission.
Mike Porta, assistant chief of ADEQ's Air Division, said that, although just one person burning yard waste might not cause a serious problem for Arkansans in general, it could create problems for anyone with respiratory disease who might be near the fire. "It could also become a widespread problem if more people start to think, 'I'm just one person; it won't make a big difference in air quality if I burn my grass and leaves,'" he said. "We hope that open burning will be a rare occurrence in Arkansas and that people will consider not only the immediate effects of burning yard waste on our air but also the example they set for others."
You can reduce yard waste and labor by setting your mower high, leaving short grass clippings on the lawn to add moisture and nutrients for healthier grass. You can also mow leaves instead of raking them and use excess mulch for shrubs. Clippings and leaves can be composted to enrich garden soil.
Arkansas law bans yard waste from landfills, but some towns pick up yard waste for municipal composting programs. If you don't have curbside garbage and yard waste service, contact your city hall, county judge's office or regional solid waste management district for information on transfer stations or drop-off programs for wastes, recyclables and compostables.
To learn which regional solid waste management district serves your community, click here.
For composting information, go to ADEQ's online brochures and click on the fact sheet series.
Report pollution problems from open burning to ADEQ's Air Division, 501-682-0773.
Report nuisance, fire or safety complaints to your local fire or police department or your local sheriff's office.