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What Is Incineration?

Incineration is the process of burning waste material at a high temperature as a way of disposal. This process is also known as thermal treatment’.

Incineration is now seen as an essential part of any waste reduction plan to minimise waste and the amount of waste that goes to landfill.

What materials can I put into an Incinerator?

When a material is burnt it doesn’t completely disappear. Once the material is burnt to ash and is removed, some of the mass of original material is converted into carbon dioxide and released into the atmosphere.

Because of this it is important that there are restrictions and regulations on what we can and can’t burn, to prevent any harmful emissions being released into the atmosphere.

What Can I burn?

When it comes to things that you CAN burn, organic materials and vegetation are some of those among the safest materials to burn. Because there are no man made chemicals or elements within these materials, when they burn mostly steam is released possibly with small amounts of carbon.

Shredded solid waste

A material commonly associated with waste incineration is municipal solid waste (MSW). This type of waste is usually classed as general waste within the industry. MSW contains materials such as household waste, food waste, cardboard, and paper. All of these are safe to incinerate.

Some things are just downright dangerous!


A lot of materials that we don’t even consider to be waste also need disposing of, such as household appliances. These contain many harmful chemicals that cannot be incinerated. Harmful chemicals must not be burnt as they release dangerous emissions into the atmosphere. This can be dangerous for animals and humans causing health issues if we breathe in these toxic fumes.

Any waste that contains harmful chemicals should be stored before incineration is considered. We recommend that incineration for this type of material is considered as a last resort, and that you should always try to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle where possible.

What to do before a cremation

Cremation is a process of disposing of a dead human or animal body through burning. Cremation is carried out at extreme intense temperatures in order to reduce the body to its basic elements and bone fragments.


Before the cremation process is carried out, jewellery such as rings and wrist watches are recommended to be removed as they could break down during the process. Heavy metal pieces are also removed as they may damage the inside of the incinerator.

Devices such as pacemakers are removed before the cremation process takes place as the intense heat may cause them to explode. This could seriously damage the incinerator and the staff working there.

Different countries all over the world have their own traditions when it comes to funeral services and cremation. This can be as a result of religions or beliefs. Things that tend to be placed inside a coffin are pictures of loved ones, flowers and favourite pieces of jewellery and other personal items.


As a sentimental gesture, it is not uncommon that bottles of alcohol are placed into the pockets of the deceased person by family members before the funeral and cremation takes place. It is important that staff remove this to avoid any damage to the incinerator and people in the building if an explosion was to occur.

In most areas of the world, it is somewhat a tradition that the deceased are to be placed in a coffin for burial and cremation. However, most coffins have metal handles and decoration on them which are typically removed before cremation. Some families opt for a wooden box or a basket-type coffin when choosing cremation.

How Does an Incinerator Work?

Incineration is the process of burning waste, which leaves the incinerator as air through the flue, or as bottom ash.

Incinerators need to be built to a high standard in order to withstand the high temperatures and operate under this type of environment.

There are three essential parts to an incinerator that are needed for the operation and proper burning of the waste.

incinerator image

1. Primary Chamber (Combustion Chamber)

The primary chamber, also known as the combustion chamber, is where the waste is loaded and ignited. The waste should go in whilst the chamber is already at a minimum temperature of 850°C. This requires you to pre-heat the incinerator beforehand. In most incinerators, the ignition occurs as a result of the high temperatures being retained within the chambers lining.

2. Secondary Chamber

The secondary chamber is also known as the afterburner’ which most modern incinerators will have. The secondary chamber is required by law in Europe, Canada, Australia, and the USA. The law was put into place to prevent the formation of harmful chemicals from being released into the atmosphere.

The law for most countries states that all flue gas must be present in the secondary chamber for at least 2 seconds at 850°C. This a temperature high enough to kill any harmful particles present in the gas before they are released. This could happen when burning plastics or forms of rubber. The process can help towards pollution control and making incineration a more environmentally friendly waste management option

3. Flue Stack

The flue stack on the incinerator is also known as the chimney. There are regulations put in place regarding the height of the flue stack depending on where your incinerator is located.

Typically, most incinerators will require a stack height of at least 3m. However, your local planning and environmental agencies may request the stack to be higher in built up areas. This is to avoid disturbing residents and wildlife in the area.

The incineration process should be left to an operator who is trained professionally for health and safety reasons.

If you want to find out exactly what materials you can and can not burn, see our blog post where we list materials suitable for incineration.

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