Is Burning Paper Environmentally Friendly

Is Burning Paper Environmentally Friendly? (Answered 2023)

Burning paper may seem like an easy way to get rid of waste, but this common practice can have harmful effects on the environment and human health.

Let’s take a closer look at whether burning paper is actually an eco-friendly option.

Is Burning Paper Environmentally Friendly?

burning paper
Image Credit: Hambly Screen Prints

No, burning paper is generally not considered an environmentally friendly practice.

The smoke and ash released from burning paper contain harmful pollutants like dioxins, furans, particulate matter, and mercury that can damage the environment and pose health risks.

While the paper is biodegradable, burning it rapidly releases stored carbon into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

Recycling paper is a more sustainable solution.

Key Points

  • Burning paper releases toxic chemicals like dioxins, furans, and mercury into the air.
  • The smoke and ash from burning paper are hazardous to the environment and human health.
  • Burning paper contributes to air pollution and climate change.

Our Opinion

In my expert opinion, burning paper should be avoided as it is not an environmentally responsible waste disposal method.

The toxins released are dangerous.

Recycling is a much better option that reduces pollution.

While burning small amounts may be permissible, it is not a green solution.

Overall, the environmental and health risks outweigh any benefits.

Is Burning Paper Bad for the Environment?

burning paper and cardboard
Image Credit: Our Endangered World

Yes, burning paper and other paper products like cardboard release chemicals like mercury, dioxins, and other toxins into the air. These hazardous pollutants can cause damage locally and globally:

  • Mercury and other heavy metals pollute the air and can settle into waterways, poisoning wildlife.
  • Toxic gases like dioxins are linked to cancer, reproductive issues, and immune system damage in humans.
  • Leftover ash and residues left behind can further contaminate soil and groundwater supplies.

While some argue that burning paper waste is better than letting it end up in a landfill, this practice still contributes to air pollution and climate change. The gases released from burning paper include carbon dioxide, worsening global warming and creating local ozone smog.

Ultimately, there are safer, more eco-friendly disposal options than burning paper and releasing toxins into the environment. Recycling paper conserves resources and energy while preventing pollution. Even sending paper trash to a landfill is less environmentally harmful than open burning.

So while burning small quantities of clean paper waste may be legally permitted in some areas, this practice cannot be considered sustainable or good for the planet. When we have better options available, it’s best to avoid burning paper and choose more earth-friendly disposal methods instead.

What Are the Pollutants Released When Burning Paper?

pollutants released during paper processing and burning
Image Credit: Ajay Kumar Singh and Ram Chandra

When paper and other materials are burned, they release concerning pollutants into the air, water, and soil. Some of the most hazardous substances emitted from burning paper include:

  • Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide – These greenhouse gases contribute to climate change and create smog.
  • Dioxins – Highly toxic even in small amounts, dioxins can cause cancer and other health effects. They persist in the environment.
  • Furans – Similar to dioxins, these chemicals disrupt hormones and the immune system. Both furans and dioxins are created when chlorine-bleached paper burns.
  • Mercury – Originating from paper waste contaminated with mercury, this toxic heavy metal poses risks to human and ecosystem health. Mercury pollution accumulates over time.
  • Particulate matter – Microscopic ash particles from burnt paper worsen air quality and respiratory health.
  • Volatile organic compounds – VOCs like benzene and toluene evaporate from burnt paper and contribute to smog formation. Some VOCs are carcinogenic.

The toxic residue left behind after paper burning also leaches into soil and water supplies over time. Overall, the variety of dangerous chemical pollutants released demonstrates why burning paper cannot be considered an eco-friendly practice despite its prevalence worldwide.

How Does Burning Paper Compare to Recycling Paper?

Recycling paper is a much greener alternative to burning it. While burning paper emits numerous toxic pollutants, recycling paper:

  • Conserves natural resources and energy. Recycled paper reduces the need for fresh timber harvesting. Producing paper from recycled materials uses 60% less energy than making paper from trees.
  • Prevents pollution. Recycling paper stops harmful incineration emissions from entering the atmosphere. It also reduces paper waste disposal in landfills.
  • Lowers carbon emissions. Paper recycling mitigates greenhouse gas emissions associated with paper production. It takes less energy to make recycled paper, resulting in lower carbon dioxide outputs.
  • Allows paper to be remade. Paper fibers can be recycled 5-7 times before degrading. Recycled paper gets manufactured into new paper products, giving the material extended usefulness.
  • Supports circular economies. Recycling integrates discarded paper back into the production cycle instead of wasting the resources used to create it. This closed-loop system provides environmental benefits.
  • Complies with regulations. Unlike open burning, paper recycling aligns with many local bylaws against pollution. Facilities process recyclables properly to meet environmental standards.

While recycling requires an upfront investment in collection infrastructure, over the long term it is a far greener choice than releasing toxic emissions through burning paper waste. Recycling keeps paper out of landfills and gives it multiple lifecycles rather than one.

Should You Burn or Recycle Paper?

When deciding how to dispose of paper waste, recycling is the more eco-friendly option compared to burning. Recycling reduces pollution and conserves resources while burning paper creates emissions that contribute to environmental and health hazards.

Recycling paper decreases the need for new timber harvesting, saving trees and forests. It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with paper production. Recycled paper uses 60% less energy and 50% less water compared to making paper from fresh wood pulp.

Unlike burning, recycling keeps dangerous chemicals like dioxins, furans, and heavy metals out of the atmosphere. It prevents these toxins from accumulating in soil or water supplies. Recycling is better for local air quality by avoiding the release of particulate matter and other pollutants.

While burning paper may seem like an easy way to quickly dispose of waste, the toxic emissions and health risks make it an irresponsible choice. The small effort to recycle paper instead can significantly benefit the environment. Choosing recycling over incineration is a simple way to avoid unnecessary pollution.


Is It Better to Throw Away Paper or Burn It?

It’s better to recycle paper if possible. Throwing away paper in landfills is problematic but still better than burning it. Burning paper creates air pollution and toxic ash. Recycling paper reduces the demand for virgin tree pulp.

Is It Bad for You to Burn Paper?

Yes, burning paper can be bad for your health as it releases harmful chemicals that you can inhale. The smoke contains particulate matter, carbon monoxide, dioxins, and other toxins. This pollution can aggravate lung conditions.


Burning paper is not an environmentally friendly practice. It releases dangerous pollutants into the air that are hazardous to the environment and human health. While some may argue paper burning is better than sending waste to landfills, recycling remains the most eco-friendly option for paper disposal. Overall, burning paper contributes to air pollution and climate change and should be avoided when possible.


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