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Outdoor burning

On this page: Different types of outdoor burning, smoke, dioxin, you can help, enforcements, district council contacts

Outdoor burning is a significant contributor to air pollution in some areas of the Waikato region. You can help reduce air pollution from outdoor burning.

The information on this page is also availabe as a printable PDF brochure, "Outdoor burning - its effects and the law".

Different types of outdoor burning

There are three different types of outdoor burning: 

Industrial site waste burning

Backyard fire


Forestry/farm vegetation burning



Smoke from outdoor burning can affect people’s health and can also be a nuisance, affecting people’s enjoyment of their environment and roof water supplies, soiling surfaces and washing, and blemishing crops.

The burning of household or garden wastes outdoors in a drum, incinerator or in the open can result in emissions of key air contaminants, including PM10and dioxin.

Ambient PM10 concentrations currently exceed national standards in a number of towns in our region. Outdoor burning can contribute up to 23% of the total PM10 emissions in our region’s towns compared, with other sources such as domestic home heating, industry,and motor vehicles.

The dispersion of the smoke also affects the amount of PM10 found. For example, outdoor burning generally does not effectively distribute PM10 compared to the high chimneys used by industry. So outdoor burning’s contribution to pollution could be higher at times.

In some urban areas of New Zealand outdoor burning is prohibited because of these impacts. Presently emissions from outdoor burning including burning of vegetation from land clearing operations (“pine to pasture”) are permitted by the Waikato Regional Plan, subject to compliance with conditions that essentially control nuisance. Note that burning may be separately controlled in District Plans. Often in summer it is banned or requires a fire permit. To find out more contact your district council.

If nuisance effects are occurring then the regional plan is not being complied with and those responsible are committing a criminal offence. Noticeable levels of smoke over wide areas, especially urban areas, can cause adverse health effects and impact a large number of people. Localised concentrated plumes of smoke may also cause health effects and cause nuisance.


Dioxin is extremely toxic and it is widely assumed from animal studies that dioxin has the potential to cause neurobehavioural, developmental, reproductive and immunotoxic effects, and cancer. A major portion of the dioxin that enters the body of the typical New Zealander originates as a discharge to air and is eventually ingested in meat and dairy products. The second largest source of dioxin discharges to air after landfill fires is from the burning of waste in “44-gallon drums” or in backyard fires.

Combustion gases from uncontrolled burning of mixed household waste can contain high levels of dioxin. Therefore an effective way of reducing the discharge of dioxins to air is to avoid burning household wastes by separating them out from garden vegetation and untreated wood prior to having a fire.

You can help

Waikato Regional Council's preferred options for dealing with solid waste are to:

  • recycle cans, plastics (1 & 2), paper and glass
  • compost organic/greenwaste
  • dispose via waste transfer stations.

However, if burning solid waste is the only option, then smoke can be reduced by burning the fuel more completely. This can be achieved by:

  • creating smaller fires
  • ensuring the fuel is dry and loosely stacked
  • ensuring the fire does not smoulder
  • ensuring the wind is predicted to be away from built up areas for the duration of the fire
  • postponing the lighting of your fire if you consider that you will be adding to the smoke from other fires
  • burning as far from your property boundary as possible
  • avoiding burning in the late afternoon/evening
  • always being prepared to put the fire out if conditions change or you discover that you are causing a nuisance.

Do not attempt to burn:

  • halogenated organic chemicals
  • materials containing heavy metals
  • pitch, paint and paint residues and surface coatings
  • asbestos
  • pathological waste (excluding animal carcasses on production land)
  • agrichemicals and agrichemical containers containing residues
  • polyvinylchloride (PVC) plastic and plastics containing halogenated material
  • copper-chrome-arsenic (CCA) treated timber or timber treated with organochlorine (PCP)
  • rubber and tyres
  • waste oil and other waste petroleum products including sludge
  • sludge from industrial processes
  • hazardous materials from contaminated sites and buildings
  • materials associated with the recovery of metals from cables
  • components of motor vehicles
  • tar and bitumen
  • any material within a landfill or a refuse transfer station.

Outdoor burning of these materials is prohibited by the Regional Plan because burning increases their capacity to produce harmful contaminants that may cause serious health effects in people and animals, such as cancers, respiratory disease and birth defects.


Breaches of the outdoor burning rules can result in enforcement action being taken by Waikato Regional Council. These actions include $300 and $1000 infringement notices for domestic and industrial/trade premise breaches respectively and for more serious breaches maximum penalties or fines of up to $300,000  for a natural person, up to $600,000 for a non-natural person (e.g. a company) and/or up to two years in prison can apply.

District council contacts

Hamilton City Council  07 838 6699
Hauraki District Council 07 862 8609
Matamata Piako District Council 07 884 0060
Otorahanga District Council 07 873 8199
South Waikato District Council 07 885 0340
Taupo District Council 07 376 0899
Thames Coromandal District Council 07 868 0200
Waikato District Council 07 824 8633
Waipa District Council 07 823 3800
Waitomo District Council 07 878 0800