Is Burning Paper Bad for the Environment?

Paper is one of the most extensively used items in homes, offices, schools, and public institutions.

To minimize paper waste, several measures are taken and burning paper is one of them. Burning of paper involves combustion which requires oxygen and releases toxic chemicals in the form of fumes and smoke.

Even though the paper is made from wood pulp, a tree derivative, burning it still causes harm to human and animal health.

Moreover, the environmental quality in the surrounding area is also degraded and marine life is also threatened if ash residue enters a water body.

Chemical Composition Of Paper

The basic material used in making paper is wood pulp. To decolorize wood, a bleaching agent called Dioxin is used.

For printed paper, a chemical additive in the form of ink is added. Acids like sulphuric and hydraulic acids are also found in traces of paper.

The colored and decorative paper has surplus amounts of inorganic dye which contain heavy metals like zinc, cadmium, lead, and even mercury.

The extent of usage has led to the production of new varieties of paper. Wax-coated paper is categorized as glaze paper and plastic-coated paper has set the show for waterproof paper.

What Happens When You Burn Paper

Burning paper might seem like a simple task but it involves the process of combustion.

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Combustion demands oxygen and emits carbon monoxide, a toxic gas.

It is a false assumption that burning paper is like burning wood because wood is organic while paper has been contaminated with various chemicals.

For instance, when you burn wood, the emitted smoke does not release bleaching agents like dioxins and heavy metals like cadmium and lead.

However, in the case of paper acids, heavy metals and bleaching agents are released into the air along with smoke and ash particles.

Environmental Impacts Of Materials Used In Paper

Burning of paper involves the release of chemicals and every chemical has harmful impacts on the environment.


Basic papermaking involves a bleaching agent, dioxin, to decolor wood pulp. Dioxin when released into the atmosphere degrades air quality.

When acidic paper is burnt it releases acids in the form of fumes which are the main cause of acid rain.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals like cadmium and lead are also released when the paper is burnt and cause serious damage to the air quality index.

Moreover, these heavy metals serve as key components for smog production in urban and rural areas.

Health Hazards Of Materials Used in Paper

Burning paper causes direct damage to the lungs and eyes because of smoke production.

Dioxin is a key component of paper and when it gets accumulated in the human body, it disrupts hormonal imbalance, can cause infertility, and lower immunity.

Heavy Metals also disturb lung functionality and can lead to serious breathing problems. Prolonged exposure to paper-burning facilities can cause cancer and other fatal disorders.

Animals are also vulnerable to the chemicals released via burning paper. Animals can have developmental issues leading to abnormal reproduction.

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Why Is Burning Paper Bad For The Environment

Burning paper degrades air quality, has a negative impact on plants and animals, and leaves grave effects on human health.

Burning paper is bad for the environment because it releases toxic components like polycyclic aromatic compounds also known as PACs.

PACs cause serious air contamination and serious breathing issues when inhaled by humans.

Burning paper also limits oxygen supply due to the excessive production of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. Both these gases are responsible for global warming.

As a result of burning paper, smoke is produced which condenses with fog to make smog. Smog causes dryness of the throat, burning eyes, and a runny nose.

The ash produced as a result of the burning paper is either left unattended or gets mixed with a nearby water body and causes water pollution.

Environmental Impacts of Burning Paper

Burning paper releases toxic chemicals like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide which are the main cause of acid rain.

All these toxic chemicals are piled up in the atmosphere and come down as acid rain. When this acid rain pours down on vegetable crops, it degrades plant health and the yield is also contaminated.

Acid rain can also cause serious contamination of water bodies and endanger marine life. Fish and other marine animals cannot survive in an acidic environment and hence die instantly.

Moreover, if human beings or wildlife comes in contact with acid rain, painful skin conditions can occur.

Frequent burning of paper causes aggregation of PACs which are the main cause of lung diseases and are proven to be carcinogenic.

Sustainable Options To Avoid Paper Burning

Globally, 440 million tons of paper are used every year. With this massive demand, the yield is also huge.

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Not only burning but the making of paper and its chemical makeup is also responsible for environmental contamination and has adverse effects on human and animal health.

The 3Rs of the Environment


Make every effort to reduce the use of paper and shift to digital documentation as it saves time, energy and the hassle of record keeping.

Print on both sides of the paper, this little step adds a lot towards climate change.


Reuse paper and paper products.

Make crafts out of newspapers or old magazines instead of colored paper.


One of the best and cleanest ways to avoid burning paper is to recycle paper. Add shredded paper into recycling bins or add it the way it is to be sent to the recycling facility.

Paper recycling can be performed at individual levels also.


Burning paper has adverse effects like reproductive issues and developmental disorders in animals and plants.

Burning paper releases toxins like PACs which accumulate in the air and threaten human health for a prolonged period. Moreover, PACs are also responsible for ozone depletion.

The addition of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide in the environment as a result of burning paper results in global warming.

For eco-conscious decisions, the use of paper must be limited and both sides should be printed. Curbside recycling should be introduced so that paper is recycled easily and efficiently.

Burning paper is bad for the environment because it poses risks to animals, humans, and marine life.

Governments and lawmakers should come forward and ban burning paper.



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