The 4Bs program: Burn barrel buy back

A guide for counties interested in reducing onsite garbage disposal (1999)

The intent of this guide is to provide counties with suggestions for implementing a program to reduce onsite garbage disposal.

Following this step-by-step process, Chisago County (1999 pop. approx. 42,000) was able to reduce the number of persons estimated to be disposing of municipal solid waste (MSW) onsite and the tonnage of waste being illegally disposed by 40% over four years.

Pop. burn/bury on-site      

Note: Illegal onsite burning and burying of garbage will be referred to as "illegal garbage burning," "backyard garbage burning in burn barrels," or simply "burn barrels."

4Bs Program: Burn Barrel Buy Back

A combination of education, encouragement, incentives, and enforcement was used successfully to get people in Chisago County to stop burning and/or dumping their household wastes. Not all suggestions will necessarily apply to everyone reading this guide. However there is much that could be used by those interested in changing people's behavior regarding onsite garbage burning.


  • Monitor and record all complaints from residents about neighbors' burn barrel smoke blowing onto their property.


  • Determine which local governmental unit (LGU) has jurisdiction: some cities may have a "no burn or bury" ordinance.
  • Develop a procedure for dealing with complaints based on current applicable laws.


  • Send a letter to offender stating, "It has come to my attention that you may be burning garbage. This has been illegal for most residents in Minnesota since 1969. There is a loophole in statute that still allows active farmers to burn or bury their garbage on their property in an environmentally sound manner, however, if contamination occurs as a result of on-site garbage disposal, you may still be held liable for expenses relating to cleanup."
  • If a county passes a resolution stating that garbage service is available for all county residents, it is then illegal for any person in the county, including farmers, to burn or bury their household wastes. Passing this type of resolution is a key step that will bolster other education and incentive efforts.
  • Use accumulated data from "Monitor" above to convince the county board to pass a resolution. In Chisago County, it took three attempts over a three-year period and several new commissioners, before the resolution passed (and then only with a 4-1 vote).
  • Organize a meeting with all of the garbage haulers licensed for operations in your county. They are your natural allies in your campaign to stomp out illegal onsite garbage disposal. Every former garbage burner is a potential new garbage service customer for the haulers.
  • Determine if the haulers are prepared to offer a discounted rate for former garbage burners who are willing to give up their burn barrels. If they will work with you, (many haulers are already giving away several months of free service to new customers) this makes the program much more attractive. They and you can then promote the program.


Informing and educating the public can take place by the private sector (the participating garbage haulers) and by the public sector (the county, city, or township).

  • Some garbage haulers sent employees door-to-door to inform residents of the county/hauler-sponsored Burn Barrel Buy Back program.
  • The local government is responsible for training and educating the following (in priority order):
    • County Environmental Services staff.
    • Garbage haulers.
    • Conservation Officer. In Chisago County, the conservation officer has been instrumental in making the 4Bs program work. He is the first point of contact when complaints come in to the sheriff's office and he assists in the training of the sheriff's deputies. If he is available to respond to a report of garbage burning, he requires the resident to put out the fire and fines him/her if more than one offense is involved.
    • Sheriff's Department. Residents with complaints about offending neighbors are encouraged to call the Sheriff's Department while the fire is burning. They may remain anonymous. If the conservation officer is unavailable, the sheriff calls a deputy. The deputy makes the visit to the smoking burn barrel and warns first time offenders and informs them of the 4Bs program.
    • Fire Wardens. All fire wardens were sent a letter explaining the 4Bs program and educational materials for residents seeking burning permits. They were also informed of the fact that 35-40% of all wildfires are started by debris fires that get out of control.
    • Township Officers. This group was the most difficult to convince of the need for the 4Bs program. The Association of Township Officers co-sponsored a display with Chisago County Environmental Services on burn barrels at the County Fair. Many township officers were very supportive and helpful. A few thought government should stay out of farmers' lives.
    • County Health Department. This department could prove to be a very valuable ally in the fight against onsite disposal of garbage. Dioxins, furans, lead, mercury, arsenic, barium, chromium and cadmium are all potential pollutants with wide-ranging health implications.


The LGU is also responsible for promoting the 4Bs program.

  • Pocket-size cards describing the 4Bs program and the illegality of garbage burning were developed to facilitate an easy informational exchange with the public by the following individuals:
    • Environmental Services staff
    • Sheriff's Department
    • Garbage Haulers
    • Conservation Officer
    • Fire Wardens
  • News releases and ads in local newspapers.
  • Show the eight-minute video "Waste Not, Burn Not" to community organizations.
  • Make the "Waste Not, Burn Not" video available to the local cable access company.
  • Develop/distribute local advertising inserts.
  • Set up displays at local home shows, county fairs and clean air/water fairs.
  • Develop and distribute inserts for the county property tax statements. This reaches all county residents and is a very powerful informational tool. We received many calls for referrals to haulers as a result of this.
  • Develop and mail letters to all county residents with five or more acres of land, assuming they would be the most likely to burn or bury their garbage. This is a direct and effective means of getting the message out. It should be carefully written to avoid confusion and unwarranted accusation.


Measure the changes that your efforts to reduce backyard burning make.

Here are Chisago County's SCORE calculations for on-site disposal of uncollected municipal solid waste (MSW) in 1998. The county's efforts helped bring the number of people using on-site disposal down to 3227-nearly 1300 fewer than the previous year-and increased waste collected by 418 tons.

   households in Chisago County (1997)
   households with garbage service
   households without garbage service
   households self-haul to transfer stations
   households that dispose of MSW on site
  2.864 persons / household
   persons that dispose of MSW on site (1998)


From 1996 to 1999 (the grant period), the number of people using onsite waste disposal methods reduced by 2000, or about 698 households.

170 households took advantage of 4Bs program (half-price garbage service for six months), which means that 500+ families decided to wean themselves off their burn barrels without an incentive. We think there are two possible reasons:

  1. Increased awareness of the law, and of the environmental and health consequences due to the 4Bs information and education program.
  2. Some residents did not want to be on a "government list of wrongdoers" in order to get the six months of half-price garbage service.

Was this project a success? Yes!

A reduction of nearly 700 households that burn/bury garbage onsite in a rural county is a major accomplishment. Many were part of the solution-all working together to make this project a success.

For more information

If you would like assistance on efforts to reduce backyard burning and on-site disposal, or for a complete report of this project, please contact:

Mark Rust <>
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
520 Lafayette Rd. N., St. Paul, MN  55155-4194
Phone: 651-757-2684 or 800-657-3864


Content for this page was developed by the Chisago County Environmental Services Office.