Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Burning waste - Your environmental responsiblities

Burning waste is usually an environmentally poor waste management option because potential resources are lost and it can cause air, land and water pollution. You should always try to reduce, reuse, recycle or recover your waste materials before disposing of them in the most appropriate way. Burning waste may be appropriate if there is no better alternative way to dispose of your waste or if the waste can be used as an efficient fuel.

In most circumstances you will need a pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit or waste management licence or a registered waste exemption for burning waste. Make sure that you have the correct permits, licences or exemptions in place before you burn waste. In some cases, burning waste is forbidden.

This guide is for any business that burns waste for disposal or to generate energy. It covers what you need to do if you burn waste in the open air or within a waste burning unit. It provides guidance on the permits, licences and exemptions that you require to burn waste and suggests alternatives to burning waste.

Additional resources

What you must do

Burning waste in the open may release harmful gases, grit and dust. Residues of harmful chemicals such as lead paints, tars and oils that remain in the ashes can be washed into the ground by rain. This may lead to contamination of the soil, groundwater and surface waters.

In order to limit pollution to air, water and land, instead of burning waste in the open you should find alternative methods of waste management, wherever possible. See the page in this guideline on alternatives to burning waste.

Waste management licences

If your business burns waste in the open, such as on a bonfire, you may need a waste management licence or a registered waste exemption. You must have the correct permissions before you burn waste and you must make sure that burning the waste does not create pollution or cause a nuisance.

In some cases, burning waste is forbidden. For example, you may not be allowed to burn waste in an area with poor air quality.

Burning waste plant tissue and untreated wood

You may qualify for a waste exemption from waste management licensing to burn certain waste plant tissue and untreated wood if you burn no more than 10 tonnes in a 24-hour period at the place where it was produced. You must register this paragraph 30 exemption with your environmental regulator. If you have an exemption, you must comply with the exemption objectives.

You must ensure that your activity does not:

  • endanger human health or risk harm to water, air or soil
  • risk harm to plants or animals
  • cause a noise or odour nuisance
  • adversely affect the countryside or places of special interest.

NIEA: paragraph 30 exemption for burning waste on land in the open

SEPA: Waste management licensing exemptions

Burning construction waste

You must not burn waste on a construction site unless you have a pollution prevention and control permit, waste management licence or a registered waste exemption that covers the activity.

Burning farm waste in Northern Ireland

You must not burn non-natural farm waste, such as plastic and tyres, in the open. You are no longer allowed to use a drum incinerator to burn agricultural or veterinary containers that are contaminated with pesticides or other toxic substances.

You can burn some waste, including plant tissue waste and untreated wood, in the open. However, you may need to register a paragraph 30 waste exemption for this activity with the NIEA.

Burning straw or stubble in the open is strongly discouraged. If you have no other alternative then you will be allowed to burn straw or stubble only if you have registered an exemption with the NIEA and follow Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) guidelines.

Normally, you must not burn animal carcasses in the open. You can only burn carcasses if you have permission from DARD. Permission may be granted in certain circumstances, such as when a disease outbreak occurs. For guidance on incinerating animal carcasses, see the page in this guideline: Permits for burning waste.

Burning farm waste in Scotland

You must not burn non-natural farm waste, such as plastic and tyres, in the open. Contact your local SEPA office before you burn waste in a drum incinerator. You can use a drum incinerator in certain circumstances, but you must first register a paragraph 29 exemption with SEPA.

You can burn some waste, including plant tissue waste and untreated wood, in the open. However, you may need to register a paragraph 30 waste exemption for this activity with SEPA.

Burning stubble and straw is strongly discouraged by SEPA.

Normally, you must not burn animal carcasses in the open. You can only burn carcasses if you have permission from Animal Health. Permission may be granted in certain circumstances, such as when a disease outbreak occurs. For guidance on incinerating animal carcasses, see the page in this guideline: Permits for burning waste.

Dark smoke restrictions

You must not cause or allow emissions of dark smoke from your site. There are some exemptions from this requirement, but only if your activities won't cause emissions that could damage health or cause a nuisance. Materials that are likely to emit dark smoke when burned include:

  • tyres and other rubber-based products
  • plastics such as polystyrene
  • cable and wires with plastic insulation covering
  • oils and paints

See the page on dark smoke restrictions in our guideline on preventing air pollution.

What you must do

The Waste Incineration Directive (WID) is a European law which aims to prevent or limit the negative effects of waste incineration on the environment. If you burn solid or liquid waste then the WID is likely to apply to you.

The WID places strict conditions and minimum technical requirements on operators. If the WID applies to your plant you will need to have strict controls on your emissions.

Complying with the WID

The WID applies to the burning of waste in a technical unit. See the page in this guideline on controls on types of waste burning units.

If you burn waste that is subject to the WID, you must have a WID-compliant Part A pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit for your incinerator.

Your permit will list the types and quantities of waste that you are allowed to burn. It will also include operating conditions, emission limits and monitoring requirements. You must comply with the conditions of your permit.

DAERA: Guidance on Directive 2000/76/EC on the incineration of waste (Northern Ireland)

Scotland: Practical guide to the Waste Incineration Regulations on the Scottish Government website

Exclusions from the WID

The WID does not cover the following types of waste burning plant:

  • Experimental plants used for research, development and testing. These are excluded only if they are used to improve the incineration process and burn less than 50 tonnes of waste per year. They are excluded because of the nature of the plant, not because of the types of waste they burn.
  • Plants that burn only waste in gaseous form. However, if a pyrolysis or gasification plant treats solid or liquid waste to produce a gas which is subsequently burned, both the initial unit and the gas combustion unit will be covered by the WID.
  • Plants that do not fit the definition of a technical unit.
  • Plants that do not fit the definition of an incineration plant or a co-incineration plant - for instance, if the primary activity is cleaning or drying equipment which also happens to combust waste, but where any burning of waste is incidental. Examples include cleaning paint from paint jigs, drying swarf to make waste metal suitable for feeding into a furnace, and using afterburners in emission abatement from a plant which is not an incineration plant.

The WID does not apply if your installation burns only the following types of waste, either on their own or in combination with non-waste fuel:

  • vegetable waste from agriculture and forestry (burning vegetable oil does require a WID compliant plant)
  • vegetable waste from the food processing industry - if the heat generated is recovered
  • fibrous vegetable waste from pulp making - if this happens on the site where the waste is generated and the heat generated is recovered
  • wood waste - excluding wood waste which has been treated with wood preservatives or coatings
  • cork waste
  • radioactive waste
  • animal carcasses

You environmental regulator can give you guidance on whether your plant is an incineration plant or a co-incineration plant.

If you burn any other waste in combination with these excluded wastes, the WID will apply.

If you have an animal carcass incinerator you will require an authorisation issued under the Animal By-products Regulation.

Animal by-products

Even if your plant, activity or waste is excluded from the WID it may still require a PPC permit, waste management licence or a registered waste exemption. See the pages in this guideline on permits for burning waste and exemptions for burning waste.

Further information

DOENI: Guidance on Directive 2000/76/EC on the incineration of waste (Northern Ireland)

Scotland: Practical guide to the Waste Incineration Regulations on the Scottish Government website

What you must do

If you burn waste as a fuel on your site to produce energy or steam in a generator, furnace or boiler you may need a permit from:

  • the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or your district council
  • the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

See the page in this guideline on permits for burning waste.

The Waste Incineration Directive (WID) applies to the burning of waste in a technical unit. Although any sort of container, eg a drum, could potentially be described as a technical unit, under the WID the phrase 'technical unit' is used for more sophisticated and complex forms of thermal treatment. The WID does not apply to units which burn only exempt waste - such as some vegetable waste, clean wood waste and animal carcasses. See the page in this guideline on exemptions for burning waste.

In Northern Ireland waste may be burned in several different types of devices. The NIEA or your district council will consider each type of device used to burn waste on a case-by-case basis.

Incineration plant

An incineration plant is any stationary or mobile plant or equipment used for the thermal treatment of waste, whether or not the heat generated from combustion is recovered.

Thermal treatment processes include pyrolysis, gasification or plasma processes where substances produced by the treatment are then incinerated.

Co-incineration plant

A co-incineration plant is any stationary or mobile plant that burns waste mainly to generate energy or produce a material product. The plant either:

  • uses waste as a regular or additional fuel
  • thermally treats waste to dispose of it

Wastes used in a co-incineration plant include:

  • tyres
  • secondary liquid fuels - oils, non-halogenated and halogenated solvents, organic acids, glycols, distillation residues, solvent-based inks, paints, adhesives, organic mixtures, viscous organic liquids, toxic solvents, organic sludges, amines and alkali

Small waste oil burners (SWOBs)

If you operate a SWOB you need a WID-compliant pollution prevention and control (PPC) Part A permit.

Drum incinerators

A drum incinerator that does not fall under the definition of a 'technical unit' is not subject to the WID. However, if you use a drum incinerator you may have to register it as an exempt activity. See the page in this guideline: Exemptions for burning waste.

Open burning

Bonfires and open burning are not subject to the WID, but you may need a waste management licence or a waste exemption and you must not cause a nuisance or pollution. See the page in this guideline: Controls on burning waste in the open.

Air curtain incinerators (ACIs)

You can only use ACIs to burn waste that is not subject to the WID. ACIs are also known as air curtain destructors, air curtain burners or air burners.

Regardless of the type of waste being burned, an ACI capable of burning more than 1 tonne per hour requires a Part A (mobile plant) permit. In most cases the use of an ACI would not be considered the best available techniques so a permit may not be granted.

What you must do

If you burn waste as a fuel on your site to produce energy or steam in a generator, furnace or boiler you may need a permit from:

  • the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or your district council
  • the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

See the page in this guideline on permits for burning waste.

The Waste Incineration Directive (WID) applies to the burning of waste in a technical unit. Although any sort of container, eg a drum, could potentially be described as a technical unit, under the WID the phrase 'technical unit' is used for more sophisticated and complex forms of thermal treatment. The WID does not apply to units which burn only exempt waste - such as some vegetable waste, clean wood waste and animal carcasses. See the page in this guideline on exemptions for burning waste.

In Northern Ireland waste may be burned in several different types of devices. The NIEA or your district council will consider each type of device used to burn waste on a case-by-case basis.

Incineration plant

An incineration plant is any stationary or mobile plant or equipment used for the thermal treatment of waste, whether or not the heat generated from combustion is recovered.

Thermal treatment processes include pyrolysis, gasification or plasma processes where substances produced by the treatment are then incinerated.

Co-incineration plant

A co-incineration plant is any stationary or mobile plant that burns waste mainly to generate energy or produce a material product. The plant either:

  • uses waste as a regular or additional fuel
  • thermally treats waste to dispose of it

Wastes used in a co-incineration plant include:

  • tyres
  • secondary liquid fuels - oils, non-halogenated and halogenated solvents, organic acids, glycols, distillation residues, solvent-based inks, paints, adhesives, organic mixtures, viscous organic liquids, toxic solvents, organic sludges, amines and alkali

Small waste oil burners (SWOBs)

If you operate a SWOB you need a WID-compliant pollution prevention and control (PPC) Part A permit.

Drum incinerators

A drum incinerator that does not fall under the definition of a 'technical unit' is not subject to the WID. However, if you use a drum incinerator you may have to register it as an exempt activity. See the page in this guideline: Exemptions for burning waste.

Open burning

Bonfires and open burning are not subject to the WID, but you may need a waste management licence or a waste exemption and you must not cause a nuisance or pollution. See the page in this guideline: Controls on burning waste in the open.

Air curtain incinerators (ACIs)

You can only use ACIs to burn waste that is not subject to the WID. ACIs are also known as air curtain destructors, air curtain burners or air burners.

Regardless of the type of waste being burned, an ACI capable of burning more than 1 tonne per hour requires a Part A (mobile plant) permit. In most cases the use of an ACI would not be considered the best available techniques so a permit may not be granted.

What you must do

In most circumstances you need a pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit, waste management licence or a registered waste exemption for burning waste. You must have the correct permits, licences or exemptions in place before you burn waste.

Most activities that involve burning waste are subject to the Waste Incineration Directive (WID). Even if the WID does not apply to your plant, you may still require a PPC permit or waste management licence if the capacity of the plant exceeds set limits, or a registered waste exemption.

In Northern Ireland, depending on the capacity of your plant and whether you are burning hazardous or non-hazardous waste, your permit will be from either the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or your district council.

Your plant may also need to comply with other legal requirements, such as the Animal By-Products (ABP) Regulations.

Burning waste in a WID plant

If you burn waste that is subject to the WID, you must have a WID-compliant Part A PPC permit for your incinerator. See the page in this guideline on requirements of the Waste Incineration Directive.

Your permit will list the types and quantities of waste that you are allowed to burn. It will also include operating conditions, emission limits and monitoring requirements. You must comply with the conditions of your permit.

Burning non-hazardous waste in a plant excluded from the WID

If you incinerate non-hazardous waste in a plant that is excluded from the WID, which has the capacity to burn no more than 50 kilograms per hour, your activity may be covered by a paragraph 29 waste exemption. See the page in this guide on exemptions for burning waste. If you cannot meet the requirements of the exemption you must have a PPC permit or waste management licence.

If you incinerate non-hazardous waste in a plant that is excluded from the WID on premises which have the capacity to burn between 50 kilograms and 1 tonne per hour, you will need:

  • a Part C PPC permit in Northern Ireland
  • Part B PPC permit in Scotland.

If you incinerate non-hazardous waste in a plant that is excluded from the WID, which has the capacity to burn 1 tonne or more per hour, you may need a Part A PPC permit.

Burning hazardous/special waste in a plant excluded from the WID

If you incinerate hazardous/special waste in a plant that is excluded from the WID, regardless of the quantities or capacities involved, you will need a Part A PPC permit.

Burning waste gases

If you incinerate gaseous compounds containing halogens (other than incidentally when burning solid or liquid waste) you will need a Part A PPC permit. You also need a Part A PPC permit to burn gaseous compounds containing nitrogen and sulphur.

Other parts of your PPC permit or waste management licence covering combustion activities may apply to your plant.

Burning waste in the open

You must not burn waste in the open unless you have a waste management licence or a registered waste exemption. You must not burn waste material that produces dark smoke. See the page in this guideline: Controls on burning waste in the open.

Incinerating animal carcasses

Your incinerator is excluded from the WID if it burns only whole animal carcasses, parts of animal carcasses that have been cut up for ease of transport or to make incineration easier, or unprocessed parts of carcasses. If it is excluded from the WID you will not need a WID-compliant permit. However, you may still require a PPC permit or a waste management licence, depending on the size of the activity.

In Northern Ireland if your incinerator burns only animal carcasses, and has a capacity of:

  • less than 50 kilograms per hour and a net rated thermal input of less than 0.3 megawatts, you may qualify for a paragraph 29 exemption from waste management licensing
  • between 50 kilograms and 1 tonne per hour and less than 10 tonnes per day, you need a Part C PPC permit
  • more than 1 tonne per hour or more than 10 tonnes per day you require a Part A PPC permit.

In Scotland if your incinerator burns only animal carcasses, and has a capacity of:

  • less than 50 kilograms per hour, you may qualify for a waste exemption
  • between 50 kilograms per hour and 1 tonne per hour and less than 10 tonnes per day, you need a Part B PPC permit
  • more than 10 tonnes per day you need a Part A PPC permit.

If you are incinerating animal carcasses along with other types of waste, the WID may apply and so you may need a WID-compliant permit.

If you have an on-farm incinerator burning only whole carcasses, you must meet specific standards set out under ABP legislation and the incinerator must be approved by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland or by Animal Health in Scotland.

DARD Northern Ireland: Animal by-products incinerator approval forms

Animal Health Scotland: Animal by-products incinerator approval form

If you are incinerating carcasses along with other types of waste you will need a PPC permit, waste management licence, or you may qualify for a paragraph 29 waste exemption. You will also need the relevant ABP authorisation from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland or Animal Health in Scotland.

If you have a WID-compliant permit you do not need a separate ABP authorisation from DARD or Animal Health.

What you must do

You must have the correct permissions in place before you burn waste. If you burn waste as a fuel or for disposal you may need a pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit or waste management licence from your environmental regulator. However, depending on the type and quantity of waste that you burn, and your method of burning, you may qualify for an exemption from waste management licensing.

Waste exemptions are for specific low risk waste activities and so have fewer controls placed on them compared with permits and licences. You may need to register waste exemptions with your environmental regulator.

If you have a waste exemption, you must comply with all of the exemption objectives. You must also ensure that your activity does not:

  • endanger human health or risk harm to water, air or soil
  • risk harm to plants or animals
  • cause a noise or odour nuisance
  • adversely affect the countryside or places of special interest

Contact your environmental regulator

Exemption for burning waste in the open

You may qualify for an exemption to burn certain plant tissue and untreated wood in the open if:

  • you burn the waste at the place where it was produced
  • you burn no more than 10 tonnes in a 24-hour period.

See the page in this guideline: Controls on burning waste in the open.

Exemption for burning waste in an incinerator

You may qualify for an exemption to burn certain plant tissue and untreated wood in an incinerator or a waste combustion plant that is exempt or excluded from the Waste Incineration Directive (WID) if:

  • you burn the waste at the place where it was produced
  • the incinerator has a capacity of less than 50 kilograms per hour
  • In Northern Ireland the waste combustion plant has a total net rated thermal input of less than 0.3 megawatts

This is a paragraph 29 exemption.

NIEA: Paragraph 29 exemption for burning waste in an incinerator

SEPA: Waste management licensing exemptions

Exemption for burning waste in a small appliance

You may qualify for an exemption to burn certain waste as a fuel in a small appliance:

  • in Northern Ireland if you burn less than 1 tonne of waste as fuel per hour and the appliance has a relevant PPC permit.
  • in Scotland if the appliance has a total net rated value of less than 0.4 megawatts.

This is a paragraph 5 exemption.

NIEA: Paragraph 5 exemption for burning of waste as a fuel

SEPA: Waste management licensing exemptions

Exclusions from the WID

There are some exclusions from the WID. See the page in this guideline on requirements of the Waste Incineration Directive.

When you burn waste you are losing a potential resource and you also risk causing air, land and water pollution. You should find alternative methods of waste management wherever possible.

If you burn waste on your site you may need a pollution prevention and control permit, waste management licence or a registered waste exemption. You must have the correct permissions in place before you start any burning activities. See the page in this guideline: Controls on burning waste in the open

When considering your waste management options you should follow the waste hierarchy - prevention, preparing for reuse, recycling, other recovery and, finally, disposal.

Better alternatives to burning your waste in the open (in order of preference) are to:

  • redesign your processes to reduce or eliminate waste production
  • implement a waste minimisation programme
  • reuse and recycle materials in-house
  • send waste for recovery rather than for disposal, eg oils and solvents
  • compost biodegradable wastes
  • burn your waste in an authorised waste incineration plant or boiler that produces energy from the waste
  • burn your waste in an authorised waste incineration plant, furnace or boiler
  • dispose of your waste at an authorised landfill site

Further information

WRAP resource efficiency helpline (UK) – 0808 100 2040

Resource Efficient Scotland Helpline - 0808 808 2268

This page provides links to the full text of key pieces of environmental legislation relating to burning waste. The websites hosting the legislation may list amendments separately.

If you are setting up an environmental management system (EMS) for your business, you can use this list to start compiling your legal register. Your legal adviser or environmental consultant will be able to tell you if other environmental legislation applies to your specific business.

Environmental management systems and environmental reports

Northern Ireland legislation

Clean Air (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 SI 158 (NI 4) (including amendments up to 2004) Sets out controls on smoke, dust and fumes, including rules on chimneys, and introduces smoke control areas.

Pollution Prevention Control (Industrial Emissions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2013 SR 160 The Regulations revoke 18 sets of existing regulations relating to industrial emissions and consolidate all the provisions of the Industrial Emissions Directive in to a single set of regulations. They control the operation of any installation or mobile plant carry out any of the activities listed in Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Regulations.

Scottish Legislation

Clean Air Act 1993. Bans the emission of dark smoke from chimneys and furnaces, sets minimum chimney heights and creates smoke control zones.

Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012 (SSI 2012/360) Sets out a system to control pollution from any installation or mobile plant carrying out specified activities through permits, inspections and control of emissions. Covers the inclusion of best available techniques (BAT) and standard rules in permits. Replaces (revokes) previous PPC legislation and the Waste Incineration (Scotland) Regulations 2003.

Further Information

Environmental legislation on NetRegs

Whats new on NetRegs

  • December NetRegs Updates

    Did you miss December's NetRegs Update? You can view them here <Scotland Update> <Northern Ireland Update> or visit the updates archive pages on this website.

  • LIFE SMART Waste project news

    The latest LIFE SMART Waste e-newsletter has been published to highlight the project’s progress towards demonstrating innovative ways of understanding, tackling and reducing waste-related crime in Europe. <Read more>

  • SEPA unveils new waste to resources framework

    A new framework for tackling waste has been unveiled by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), focussing on how SEPA will support a circular economy in Scotland.
    One Planet Prosperity – A Waste to Resources Framework

  • Waste – Duty of Care Roles and Responsibilities

    The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has published a short guide to the duty of care responsibilities including advice and information for waste producers, carriers and those accepting, storing and treating waste.

    https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/waste-duty-care-responsibilities

  • Please let us know your thoughts on our new website

    What do you think about our new and improved website. We want your feedback on what you like, what you don’t like and ways we can continue to improve the website. Follow the link to complete the very short survey: NetRegs website – User feedback

  • NEW guidance on Environmental Management Systems

    We have recently updated and improved our guidance on Environmental Management Systems (EMS). You can find the guidance via the Environmental Topics tab or alternatively select the following link Environmental Management Systems (EMS).

  • Consultation on proposed changes to the packaging recycling business targets

    See NI Future legislation or Scotland Future legislation for details of the Consultation

  • NetRegs SMEnvironment survey 2016

    NetRegs has carried out a survey of environmental awareness among SMEs. There are separate reports for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  • NIEA Guidance - Greenfield Excavated Matrials in Construction

    NIEA and the CEF have developed a Regulatory Position to promote Sustainable re-use of natural excavated material from Greenfield sites.

    NIEA: Guidance on the Regulation of Greenfield Excavated Materials in Construction and Development

  • New GPP 2 Above Ground Oil Storage

    The replacements for the PPGs are being developed. Now available GPP 2 Above Ground Oil Storage

  • SEPA Consultation on an Intergated Authorisation Framework

    SEPA is asking for your views on the proposals for integrated authorisations.

    Consultation documents

  • GPP 24 Stables, Kennels and Catteries

    NEW GPP 24 now available: Stables, Kennels and Catteries

NetRegs on NetRegs on youTube

View our latest videos & subscribe to our channel.

NetRegs Update Newsletter

Free monthly email newsletter with environmental updates for Northern Ireland and Scotland

Sign up for free today!

Permits

NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms