Is Burning Paper Bad for the Environment?

Burning paper might seem like a harmless and easy way to dispose of unwanted documents and materials.

However, the impact of this practice on the environment is a subject of increasing concern.

For the past few years, there has been a great debate over whether or not burning paper is safe for the environment.

Some people dismiss the idea of burning paper by highlighting the harmful environmental impacts and the air pollution that are caused when a paper is burned.

Others believe it is a smart way of disposing of paper.

No one really knows which path to take. In the upcoming paragraphs, we will answer this question in the light of scientific evidence.

Why Is Setting Paper on Fire Bad for the Environment?

Paper is manufactured using wood pulp that comes from trees.

Some people believe that burning paper is the same as burning wood and the combustion of paper results in a carbon dioxide release. This isn’t accurate.

So, is burning paper bad for the environment? “Yes, it is”.

Paper Is Bleached and Printed

Printed paper generally has ink and graphics on it in the form of the company’s logo and lines on the page. This is where things go wrong.

The inks and toners used in printing contain toxic ingredients that are bad for the environment.

Furthermore, to give the paper its signature white color, manufacturers use bleach, thus making it harmful to the environment.

As a result, when paper is burned, it releases harmful chemicals into the environment, which results in air pollution and various respiratory issues.

Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide

As discussed above, like wood, burning paper products releases carbon dioxide into the environment.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Burning of paper also produces carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is harmful to human health, especially in areas with insufficient ventilation.

Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can result in dizziness, unconsciousness, and even death.

Mercury and Dioxin

One of the most common chemicals released from the burning of paper is dioxin, also known as the most toxic chemical ever made by humans.

Short-term dioxin exposure can result in skin lesions, skin darkening, patchy skin, chloracne, and disturbed liver function.

Long-term dioxin exposure can result in reproductive issues, immune system impairments, and problems with the nervous system.

Another dangerous chemical released in the burning of paper is mercury.

Exposure to mercury causes peripheral vision loss, lack of movement and coordination, hearing and speech impairments, and muscle weakness.  

Mercury exposure can also cause harm to infants.

It can affect motor and spatial skills, cause memory loss, and attention deficit, and also affect cognitive abilities.

Acid Rain

Acid rain is one of the most horrific environmental impacts of burning paper.

When the above-mentioned chemicals mix with clouds and water, they return to the earth as acid rain.

There are several adverse impacts of acid rain on human health and ecosystems.

Acid rain results in irritation, allergies, respiratory issues, and skin burns.

Furthermore, when it comes into contact with lakes, rivers, and other water bodies, it makes them acidic.

The acidic water affects the marine life that resides in the water and also draws holes into shells and rocks.

The increased acid levels in water reduce the amount of oxygen, which results in dead fish. Also, this acidic water poisons the birds that drink it.

Mine drainage also creates a big problem when acid rain occurs.

Rocks from mining are often exposed to environmental elements like air and moisture. These rocks contain a mineral called iron sulfide.

The sulfuric acid in acid rain reacts to iron sulfide and dissolves it.

The dissolved iron sulfide travels into water streams and rivers and kills the fish that live in those water bodies.

Also read: How to Dispose of Old Books?

Impact of Burning Paper on Human Health

Burning paper can have negative effects on both human health and the environment.

The burning process releases harmful chemicals into the air, which can cause a variety of health problems.

Air Quality

When paper burns, it releases fine particles and poisonous chemicals into the air.

These particles can reduce air quality, making breathing difficult for people, especially those with asthma and other respiratory issues.

The chemicals released during burning may also contribute to air pollution, increasing the risk for various health problems.

Respiratory Issues

Exposure to the chemicals and particles released by burning paper can lead to respiratory problems.

These issues include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and exacerbation of pre-existing asthma.

Prolonged exposure to these harmful particles and chemicals can also lead to chronic respiratory infections and other lung diseases.

Cancer Risks

Some of the chemicals released when paper burns, such as dioxins and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), are known to be carcinogenic.

This means that they have the potential to cause cancer in humans when inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Long-term exposure to these harmful substances can increase the risk of developing various types of cancer.

To limit the negative impact of burning paper on human health and the environment, reducing paper usage, recycling paper products, and seeking alternative methods for disposing of paper waste is essential.

Also read: How to Dispose of Old Passports?

Alternatives to Paper Burning

Considering the information above, we can deduce that burning isn’t the way to eliminate waste paper. What should we do then?

Well, the three Rs of waste management apply to paper as well. Here is what you need to do.


If you don’t want to damage the environment by burning paper, try to reduce your paper use as much as possible.

This means there should be less paper in schools, colleges, offices, hospitals, and several other organized establishments.

Here are a few tips for reducing your paper usage.

  • Use both sides of the paper when writing.
  • Reduce paper waste by printing double-sided documents whenever possible.
  • Minimize the number of documents you clip to a file.
  • Resort to online file storage rather than maintaining huge amounts of files.
  • Opt for electronic storage, billing, and communication to decrease the need for physical paper.


If your paper isn’t suitable for recycling, you can at least reuse it. Here is what you can do.

  • Make stationery items like notepads, notebooks, and journals out of paper.
  • Design homemade wrapping sheets.
  • Use it creatively in school art projects and science exhibitions.
  • Create paper crafts like origami.
  • Donate the paper to schools and other educational institutions.


According to the EPA, recycling paper is beneficial for the following reasons.

  • Every time you recycle paper, you prevent 17 trees from being cut.
  • It helps save ample energy for an average American household to use for six months.
  • It helps save approximately 7000 gallons of water.
  • It saves a landfill space of approximately 3.3 cubic yards.
  • It minimizes greenhouse emissions by one MTCE.

Recycling paper allows us to make new paper out of waste paper products.

We can also save trees, electricity, and water, which benefits industries and our planet.

Industries can use recycled paper for making paper wall art, packaging materials, plastic-free tissue papers, and baby wipes.

However, recycling paper isn’t 100% perfect.

Every time paper is recycled, its fibers are shortened, and the quality goes down.

The texture and the consistency aren’t as fine either.

Recycled paper is good for making products like egg cartons and newspapers.

Furthermore, the process of paper recycling uses various resources that are vital to the earth and the environment.

Two of these resources are water and electricity.

However, the good news is that recycling paper doesn’t need as much electricity and water as the production of fresh paper requires.

Composting Paper

Composting is another eco-friendly option for dealing with paper waste.

Not all types of paper are suitable for composting, but certain kinds, such as newspapers and egg cartons, can be composted.

When composted, these paper products break down into organic material that can be used to enrich soil and garden beds.

Here are the steps to compost paper:

  1. Shred or tear the paper: Break down the paper into smaller pieces to speed up the composting process.
  2. Add the paper to your compost pile: Mix the shredded or torn paper with other organic materials in your compost pile, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, leaves, and grass clippings.
  3. Turn the compost regularly: Turning the pile helps to aerate it and promote decomposition.
  4. Monitor moisture levels: Ensure your compost pile maintains a balance of moist and dry materials to speed up decomposition and prevent smells.
Also read: How to Dispose of Old Checkbooks?

Switching to Eco-Friendly Materials

Another key factor in reducing the environmental impact of paper is switching to eco-friendly and sustainable materials.

These materials have less of a negative effect on the environment and can be better alternatives to traditional paper products.

Some examples of eco-friendly materials include:

  • Plant alternatives: Consider options like bamboo, hemp, or kenaf, which grow faster and use fewer resources than trees.
  • Recycled paper: Opt for paper products made from recycled materials to reduce the need for new paper production, which can contribute to deforestation.
  • Organic options: Look for paper products that are labeled as organic, meaning they are produced without the use of harmful pesticides, chemicals, or synthetic materials.
  • Biodegradable or compostable options: Choose paper products such as bags, plates, and cups that are designed to break down quickly and safely in the environment.
Also read: Are Paper Plates Bad for the Environment?

Frequently Asked Questions about Burning Paper

Below are some common questions people have about burning aer and its impact on the environment.

Is It Bad to Burn Cardboard Products?

Yes, it is bad to burn cardboard products.

In fact, it is worse than burning paper. Cardboard products are mostly covered with a thin plastic coating.

When plastic is burned, it releases unhealthy chemicals and toxins into the environment, which are harmful to humans, animals, and plant health.

Is It Safe to Burn the Paper With Ink?

Burning paper with ink is not safe, as it can release toxic gases and chemicals, depending on the type of ink used.

Some inks may contain heavy metals, such as mercury, which are hazardous to human health and the environment when burned.

Are There Legal Restrictions on Burning Paper?

In many areas, there are legal restrictions on burning paper and other materials due to the air pollution it causes.

It is essential to check local regulations and follow any guidelines regarding burning and waste disposal.

Should You Burn Paper Products in Your Garden?

The answer is “no.” You shouldn’t burn paper in the garden or anywhere at home.

First of all, it releases harmful chemicals, and it can also result in a fire accident on your property.

If you must burn paper products at home, try doing it within a controlled setting.

Moreover, to stay out of any legal trouble, make sure to check the local rules and regulations that surround burning paper on the property.

Should You Burn Important Documents?

Some people aren’t comfortable with the idea of other people getting their hands on their important paperwork.

Therefore, they resort to burning it. However, that isn’t the solution.

You can use a paper shredder, a more environmentally friendly alternative to burning paper.

Shredded paper can be added to your home’s compost pile.

To speed up the composting process, you can add some tea bags, coffee filters, and coffee grounds.

Burning Paper Products for Energy

Paper can be burned to produce electricity and heat energy.

While burning paper can release toxins into the environment, the biggest corporations have sophisticated filtration systems that keep harmful toxins from escaping into the environment.

While burning huge heaps of paper products for energy isn’t ideal, it is still better than burning fossil fuels.

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