Burning and Incineration Methods

The burning and incineration method used is a major factor in determining what type of waste can be safely and effectively disposed of. The methods commonly used in Nunavut include open burning on the ground, unmodified burn barrels and various mechanical incineration systems.  Other useful methods include the use of burn boxes and modified burn barrels. Each method is discussed separately in the following sections.

2.1.1    Open Burning

Open burning means the burning of waste where limited or no control of the combustion process can be exercised by the operator. This method includes burning solid waste directly on the open ground or in burn boxes or burn barrels and often does not achieve the temperatures or holding time needed for complete combustion of the waste to occur.  This results in the formation of potentially hazardous pollutants and ash, which are likely to impact nearby land and water. Food waste that is not completely burned through open burning can also be a powerful attractant for animals.

The various open burning methods can also present a risk of uncontrolled vegetation and tundra fires through the release of hot sparks or embers. The level of fire risk depends upon the type of open burning used, its location, the skill of the operator and the environmental conditions that exist at the time (i.e. dryness of the surrounding vegetation, wind).

The open burning of solid waste remains a common practice in Nunavut.  It is the policy of the Department of Environment to eliminate or minimize open burning of mixed solid waste to the extent practicable and to encourage more acceptable methods of disposal and incineration.

Open Burning on the Ground

Open burning on the ground involves burning solid waste that has been piled directly on the surface of the ground or placed in a small open pit. Many large and small communities and camp operators in Nunavut continue to practice open burning on the ground as a
means of reducing the

volume of solid waste that must ultimately be disposed of. In general,

Figure 1 – Open Burning on the Ground
Photo courtesy of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

open burning on the ground results in the incomplete combustion of waste and the release of various
harmful pollutants to the air, can cause vegetation or tundra fires through the uncontrolled release of hot sparks and embers, and is actively discouraged by the Nunavut Department of Environment as a method for disposing of unsegregated or mixed solid waste.

Burn Boxes

There are two basic types of burn boxes. The enclosed burn box is constructed using heavy sheets of steel or other metal while the open burn box is constructed using expanded metal grating. The latter type is commonly referred to as a burn cage. These devices are not commercially-available in Nunavut, but can be constructed using locally available materials. For example, the enclosed metal burn box shown in Figure 2 is made from a dump truck bed and steel plating.

Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

Burn boxes are considered a modification of open burning. Combustion air is provided passively using a natural draft making electricity unnecessary. Burn boxes are single chambered units.  Waste is raised off the bottom of the box by placing it on grates inside the unit. Unburned bottom ash falls through the grate during burning making removal easier once a sufficient amount has accumulated. Combustion air in enclosed burn boxes is typically provided by cutting holes near the bottom of the box allowing for better mixing with the burning waste.

Open burn boxes, or burn cages, are an improvement over enclosed burn boxes as the waste is exposed to natural drafts through the metal grating on all surfaces including the bottom. This enables air to better mix with burning waste and promotes more efficient combustion throughout the burning period.
Both types of burn boxes are
constructed with hinged tops to enable easier loading and cleaning.

Unlike open burning on the ground, burn boxes help to contain the burning waste within a specific location reducing the risk of fire spreading to other disposal areas or surrounding tundra, while still enabling moderate amounts of solid waste to be burned.

Burn Barrels

There are two basic types of burn barrels – the unmodified burn barrel and modified burn barrel.

Figure 3 – Open Metal Burn Box
Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

The unmodified burn barrel is normally a 45 gallon, or 205 litre, metal fuel or oil drum with the top removed. These devices typically operate at a low temperature resulting in incomplete combustion of the waste and production of large volumes of smoke and fly ash.

A modified burn barrel is a 45 gallon metal fuel or oil drum that has been affixed with devices or features which result in higher burn temperatures, better mixing of the air and a longer holding time. These modifications include a ‘metal mesh basket’ insert or grate designed to suspend the burning waste.
Evenly spaced vents or holes cut above the bottom of the barrel supply combustion air. These features provide for enhanced passive under-fire ventilation and promote better contact between the waste being burned and incoming air. The basket insert is topped with a hinged lid and a chimney port for attachment of an exhaust pipe or stack. The lid helps to increase heat retention and holding time inside the barrel while also allowing for easier loading and mixing of the  waste. The removable mesh basket enables access to the unburned bottom ash.

Modified burn barrels can be built using commonly available materials. They can either be pre-built locally or transported to the site for assembly. Detailed construction plans are provided in Appendix 2.

Although modified burn barrels are designed to create an advantage over open burning on the ground, burn boxes and unmodified burn barrels through achieving higher burn temperatures and increased turbulence and holding time, incomplete combustion of waste and the release of  pollutants to the atmosphere are still likely. In fact, emissions testing by Environment Canada on a modified burn barrel in April 2011 suggest that these devices do not provide any improvement over open burning on the ground in terms of

Figure 4 – Modified Burn Barrel

emissions quality, particularly if wet food waste is added to the waste mixture. Other common  problems include easily overfilling the unit and loading waste that should not be burned (refer to section 3.2).  Wet or frozen masses of waste are particularly difficult to burn and the resulting partly burned food waste may still attract animals. The proper operation of modified burn barrels is critical to achieving the most efficient burn possible. Basic operating instructions are provided in section 4.1.

Burn barrels are capable of burning only small volumes of solid waste. Like burn boxes, they reduce the risk of fire spreading to vegetation and tundra by containing the burning waste to a specific location.

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