What Are the Dangers of Burning Plastic Bottles?

Updated February 12, 2018

Local and regional burning laws commonly prohibit burning of any plastic. These items include food containers, plastic bags and milk, water and soda bottles. Burning plastic releases substances that are dangerous for the health of people and animals, and for the environment in general. Plastic items should not be placed in wood stoves, fireplaces, campfires or trash burn bins.

Air Pollution

Burning plastic bottles releases heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, along with toxic chemicals into the air. These chemicals include benzene, dioxins, furans and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. Burning polyvinyl chloride (PVC) releases hydrochloric acid, which contributes to acid rain. Burning plastic is a major source of toxic pollutant emissions, according to the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP).

Plant, Soil and Water Contamination

Toxins released into the air from the burning of plastic bottles eventually contaminate plants, soil, surface water and groundwater. Open burning often is a rural practice, in areas close to agricultural operations. This can result in pollutants being absorbed by food crops. Because burning trash in a barrel or garbage heap has no pollution controls as professional incineration does, outdoor burning emits significantly more chemical toxins and particulates.

Dioxins and Furans

Dioxins and furans occur as byproducts of manufacturing certain products, fuel burning and burning of waste, including plastic. One dioxin, known as TCDD, is linked to cancer in humans, as noted by Cancer Research UK. Dioxins and furans both accumulate in animal tissue. Reported effects on birds and fish, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), include increased mortality, decreased growth, reproductive failure and birth defects.

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About the Author

Shelley Moore is a journalist and award-winning short-story writer. She specializes in writing about personal development, health, careers and personal finance. Moore has been published in "Family Circle" magazine and the "Milwaukee Sentinel" newspaper, along with numerous other national and regional magazines, daily and weekly newspapers and corporate publications. She has a Bachelor of Science in psychology.