This article is highly deceptive in implying that avid recyclers are responsible for more dioxin in backyard burning. True, the article does say that’s per pound of trash burned. But how many fewer pounds of trash per person per year do these people burn? In reality, many people who are avid recyclers are probably also careful about what they buy in the first place. I don’t burn any trash, but if I did, my total garbage, minus all the recycling, for a family of three probably averages less than 20 pounds per week. Neighbors all around me are putting out two full garbage cans every week. Who would produce the most dioxin?

Mark Bremer
Benicia, Calif.

Why, oh why did you use the term “recyclers” to describe people who burn trash? They are keeping the plastic from appearing in the landscape, but they are certainly not recycling. Recyclers collect discarded materials and deliver them to be made into other, useful products. Now, we who do recycle are going to have to answer to the skeptics who will wave this article at us and say, “Look! Science News says that recyclers are poisoning the air!”

Judy Donaldson
Capitola, Calif.

As an avid recycler, I know that what I have left for the trash is almost entirely plastics, so yes, pound for pound our trash is more toxic than nonrecyclers’ trash. But house per house it isn’t because we have a lot fewer pounds. That aside, it is still alarming how much damage a few people can do. I would guess that a total burning ban would be unenforceable, but the elimination of some of these plastics must be the answer.

Sammy Nasr
Sebastopol, Calif.

Open burning in a few backyard barrels is terrible for the environment. So, what’s the action plan of your Greenpeace source? Not to ban backyard fires but rather to ban vinyl, despite its benefits. Most vinyl is used in long-lived applications (pipes, siding, etc.) or special-use products such as blood bags, so only small amounts will get into backyard fires. Even if vinyl were eliminated, open fires would continue to create dioxin.

Tim Burns
The Vinyl Institute
Arlington, Va.

The tests described don’t condemn recycling. Rather, they point out that burning the portion of trash that recyclers can’t recycle could create more dioxin per pound of waste than nonrecyclers’ trash does. The researchers deliberately measured the difference per pound to allow for variability in the amount of trash that families produce. The recipe the researchers used for samples representing waste from recyclers and nonrecyclers was based on analyses of trash from families in New York. The reason recyclers’ trash produced the most dioxin per pound, the scientists believe, has to do with varying ratios of ingredients. The recyclers’ waste might have burned cooler, contained more plastics that were especially chlorine-rich, or been seeded with more dioxin-forming catalysts such as copper .–J. Raloff