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Can You Burn Mulch? Is It Safe?

Mulch is an important addition to gardens for several reasons, from helping the garden retain moisture to simply making it a more attractive piece of your yard. After one or two seasons, organic mulches typically need to be replaced.

So, the question becomes, can you burn it? The short answer to that is yes. Almost anything is combustible. But a better question to ask is, should you burn it? Then, the answer becomes a bit more of a gray area. Whether burning the old mulch is safe or a good idea depends entirely on what it’s made from.

Read on as we discuss what mulch is, and the different types there are. Then, we’ll discuss which are safe to be burned and which aren’t, with a few tips on disposal.

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What is Mulch?

Mulch is a multi-purpose soil amendment that is typically added to a garden bed seasonally, or sometimes, more than once in a season. It can be made from several materials, which we’ll look at below.

Organic Mulch

wood chips mulch
Image Credit: Olichel, Pixabay

Organic mulch is anything that was once alive. There is nothing synthetic, and it can actually add nutrients to the soil, instead of simply doing a job and looking good.

Some examples of organic mulch include:

  • Tree bark
  • Pine needles
  • Shredded leaves
  • Straw or hay
  • Grass clippings
  • Shredded newspaper

Non-Organic Mulch

rows of plants individually covered with plastic
Image By: aminkorea, Shutterstock

Unlike its organic counterpart, non-organic mulch is not and has never been alive. Synthetic materials will not add anything to the soil. However, this type of mulch is great at retaining moisture and preventing weed growth, and it lasts a lot longer than organic mulch.

Some examples of non-organic mulch include:
  • Shredded or chunks of rubber—for example, from old tires
  • Plastic or landscape fabric
  • Stones or gravel

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Is it Safe to Burn Mulch?

mans hand holding mulch
Image By: larisa Stefanjuk, Shutterstock

When we burn something, it’s just gone after that …right? Unfortunately, this is not the case. For example, when treated wood is burned, the burning doesn’t destroy arsenic and other toxic chemicals the wood contains. Instead, it releases them into the air, and not only are they toxic to breathe in, but they are also harmful to the environment.

Commercial mulch production facilities typically don’t differentiate between treated and non-treated wood when they are grinding it up for mulch. As a result, if you’re burning your old organic mulch, you’re potentially releasing those chemicals into the air.

The other thing to consider if you use non-organic mulch is that you definitely shouldn’t burn it. If you’re using gravel, it won’t burn. But if you’re using rubber or plastic, those are both terrible for the environment when burned as well.

Safe Disposal of Mulch

So, if we shouldn’t burn old mulch, how can we get rid of it? First off, some organic mulch can be safely burned, as long as you know exactly what they are. For example, any grass clippings that don’t decompose, or DIY bark mulch, could be burned without negative consequences for you or the environment.

However, here are a couple of other options for safe mulch disposal:

  • Bag it and take it to your local waste management facility
  • Organic mulch can be composted, providing it’s not dyed
  • If allowed, put it in your yard waste bin for pickup

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The old saying, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” is very true regarding disposing of your old mulch. Of course, you can burn pretty much any mulch, other than rocks and gravel, and it may not be a problem. However, if you burn the wrong material, it can be damaging to the environment and even your health.

Featured Image Credit: Manfred Richter, Pixabay


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