Is Burning Wire Illegal?

Burning insulated wire in the USA is illegal under the federal Clean Air Act. That’s it folks. Look no further.

(It’s also illegal in Canada.)

Burning wire releases carcinogens/toxins into the air and into the ground around the burn site,  including “dioxins, furans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, particulate matter, heavy metals (such as lead, arsenic, selenium and cadmium) and other pollutants.” For not following code, you can pay a fine of up to $25,000 per day and/or up to 5 years in jail. Also, if you find and report somebody for breaking the federal clean air act, you are eligible for a $10,000 reward!

For the record, just so my position is clear, the money you make by burning copper wire is not worth the risk of burning it!

Say for example that #1 copper scrap is worth 2.60 per pound, scrap insulated wire is worth $1.20 per pound, and burned wire is worth $2.20 per pound… For a pile of wire that weighs under 100 lbs, there is NO reason to burn it.

If you burned 100lbs of insulated copper wire copper wire, and you end up with less than 60 pounds of burned copper, then that means you have broken even…(When you burn copper wire, it loses about half its weight, depending on the type of wire.) see:

Before burning: 100 pounds @ 1.25 per pound = $125
After burning:   60 pounds @ $2.20 per pound= $132
Gain:  +$7
(minus time and money for burning)

On the other hand, if you were to strip the same wire, you would make at least $31!

Whether it’s copper or aluminum wire, insulated wire is not to be burned, even if a scrap yard offers to buy it that way. They know it is illegal and costly, and that is why they are not burning it themselves. If that doesn’t convince you, do it for your health: the last thing anyone wants to be handling is a hot tangle of carcinogenic wire.

Juan A. Rodriguez Sr. January 1, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Thank you for the advice. I honestly do not think I want to collaborate by destroying the environment but the contrary.

Moses Smtih April 16, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Thanks again for the article.Really thank you! Much obliged.

Mark Brown June 20, 2012 at 9:37 pm

I tried to sell my alluminum cat food cans and the guy would not take it. He said it was lined with teflon and it was no good. With one tooth in his head and appering to hav a very hard life, i question his information

K8E September 2, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Some brands of canned foods, whether it’s 4animals or 4people, can’t be taken for straight aluminum bcuz they do have other materials mixed in w/em. Some aren’t even aluminum even though they look like it but are probably just some plain type of tin metal or something like that. That can b pointed/found out by using a real magnet. If it sticks to it anywhere, even@d very or slightest bit it’s no good I believe. If u take d labels off n clean em out good, then stick d magnet2 it & there’s no sticking then u should b good. I want2 say d Friskies brand was one of the no good ones, n I want to say Fancy Feast is a good one for scrap. I can’t remember@ this moment but I do however know some brands are scrap able but there are some that are not scrapable. Hope that helps a lil.

nebrscrap August 29, 2012 at 6:26 am

Also when and if someone burned a harness type wire they could loose more copper if under improper temperatures, and length on said fire,
Btw it is illegal to burn in nebr and can incur a 10k$ fine

M November 3, 2012 at 7:28 pm

40lbs lost burning what started as 100lbs….. No Way! I dont know what type wire your getting or why it have 40lba insulation on it? Be better said that instead of burning insulation strip it sell it as scrap also! Or check your scales…. 40lbs lost!!? Way over inflated boast.

ScrapMetalJunkie November 20, 2012 at 10:49 am

Most insulated copper wire, for example double insulated extension cords, are over 50% insulation by weight.

George July 3, 2013 at 5:05 pm

If he is referring to wire off appliances and extension cords then he is correct on saying its about 60% recovery when burning.

Bugz November 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I have burned copper wire twice, and the second time a friend down the road alerted me it was illegal so we used Google to look into it and came across this. Honestly, I don’t think burning it was worth it even if it was legal unless like you said, had 100’s of lbs or something. However, this does bring up a question. If it’s illegal to burn insulated wire in general, how is it recycled after we take it to a scrap yard? Doesn’t somebody have to burn it down eventually?

ScrapMetalJunkie November 20, 2012 at 10:48 am

The scrap copper wire will get granulated, or it gets burned in an industrial grade furnace that filters the toxins.

wade December 23, 2012 at 4:27 am

I would like any good ideas on stripping copper wire if there is such a thing.

K8E September 2, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Try throwing it in a pot n boil it for a while in water or some kind of oil, then snip each edge carefully so lil bit of clean wire is showing enough so u can take any type of pliers to it n get a good grip on it. Doing this boiling should heat up d plastic/rubber/insulation materials should then soften enough to be able to pull n slide apart. Not sayin this will b successful but its a thought.

Troy Robinson January 13, 2013 at 1:12 am

About the article a few paragraghs up about new laws tey they are comming,I recently went to california specifically for a scrapp metal job it took about three weeks in that time i had to go to the police department for a scrap or recyclers licence it cost ten dollars good for a year ,great for daily pay then i had to go to a seperate agency a independant contractor to pick up forms for individuals to fill out for non ferrous materials specifically copper also forms for E-waste,then forms for taxes i think over five hundred dollars per job i did bid on a job a large Ranch clean up job motorhomes ,mobiles,trailers,you name it but in reality it was not worth it no shape form or way i no longer take jobs in california nor will i when it spreads ,its already tough enough and dangerous to your freedom,load a refer by some chance you overlook a small hole in the freon line(thats why they threw it out)scrap yard notices it or get pulled over by the scrap police your fined ,or catalyst comes out all over the place when you throw it in your truck or cleaned prior your fined on and on ….so yes it is getting tougher,and sooner then we all think there will be a big corp coming in that can and will be able to get around all that and we are no more as scrappers ….

APARTMENT ENERGY April 25, 2013 at 1:49 pm


steve April 28, 2013 at 12:51 pm

i wonder if a large hubly bubbly could filter out the fumes i am going to make a small unit say 25 litre if it works then all you do is clean the water before disposing i am in sa where the local trolly/horse cart guys just burn the copper and dont give a stuff about pollution. by the way if the cable is placed in an oven, say heated by wood you can peel the copper off for grade 1 copper with no fumes.

Apartment Energy is Dumb May 16, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Apartment Energy, “your” is the possessive form and “you’re” means “you are.” Please go back to third grade and pay attention this time.

Kate's grandma June 25, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Metal thieves have established a wire burning site on a wooded rental property behind my subdivision (500′ uphill, upwind from my house). They burn small amounts of wire over firewood so it doesn’t produce enough smoke to be seen from the road and apparently have it well camouflaged and have some way to shut it down fast. (Or else local enforcement is so lazy they never look past the decoy burn barrels that are only used for yard debris and rarely burning.) (A local park ranger who has smelled the toxic smoke believes local enforcement is being paid off.)

A private investigator (who was a former federal agent) has been trying to help me (for free) and he has been unable to find any agency that will even look into this. He said there seems to be no jurisdiction.

Do you to know the exact code in the Clean Air Act that would cover wire burning? I was just told by someone at the Georgia office of the US EPA that there was nothing they could do.

I know this sounds unbelievable but they have literally burned every day for the past 8 months and sporadically for at least 2 years. Several of us have tried to report it, but we aren’t taken seriously. (At this point, everyone but me is too intimidated to keep reporting it because they had their houses broken into, yards vandalized, or are frightened by the “target practice” that goes on back there.)
People seem to have just gotten used to the stench or don’t realize what it is because it smells more like a nasty moldy barbeque grill being burned off or a really dirty oven on self-clean than like burned plastic. (Burning cable and wire releases acrolein, the chemical that makes burning grease smell so nasty.)

I know I’m not imagining it because I have an air monitor (a particle counter) on my front porch and the particle pollution is horrible.

I’ve had damage to my heart and lungs (& tested high for several toxic metals like lead), a baby up the street was diagnosed with asthma before he was 6 months old & has had to have breathing treatments, 4 horses downwind at a therapy stable have developed respiratory problems and I have a cat who has seizures on the nights the burns have been really, really bad. Those are just the problems I am aware of.

If anyone here knows how it is possible to burn wire like that without creating much smoke, or how they might be hiding the burn barrel(s), please tell me so I can get local enforcement to understand and believe me.
We don’t live in the middle of the country. This is a metro Atlanta county and this area is mostly subdivisions with a few older farm properties. The county line is less than 2 miles east (downwind) and from there it is wall to wall subdivisions.

scrapy doo October 9, 2013 at 5:30 am

What is that scraper saying?

Jake Reimer November 30, 2013 at 1:48 am

Having stripped copper for the better part of 60 yrs. I think it’s time to invest in a wire stripper. Can anyone give me a heads up on what to buy?

kevin foster February 7, 2014 at 8:45 pm

i have burned on what i now know to be pennsylvania state property on (9/2010). i dont know if it was game lands or state forest or what but there was so much smoke that someone called the local fire department and the state police showed up. the state trooper was very pissed and promised i was going to be charged with something. i was allowed to leave and was told to expect charges. the state trooper took my burnt copper wire. i waited and was never charged with anything. two and a half years later however i had a state trooper show up at my place of residence and serve me with a rule 588 motion for return of property filed by the pennsylvania district attorneys office on behalf of me. the affidavit of probable cause pretty much stated that the trooper was not within his means to seize my wire, to cover their ass(the state) offered me the chance to contest the seizure and get my wire back. they had to do this because it is not specifically illegal to possess burnt copper wire on public property where burning is allowed. the legal fees would have cost more than the current scrap value of the copper though. i ignored the motioned and forfeited the wire. based on all this i dont think that state trooper could have charged me with anything or he would have. my personal opinion on burning insulated copper wire is that anything that burns with purple, white and green flames and gives off pure yellow smoke that simply flows on the ground away from the fire has got to be horrible and since i dont want mesothelioma by the age of thirty i now strip any wire i come accross by hand.

kevin foster February 7, 2014 at 9:03 pm

oh yeah and i was also charged with -Risking and Inciting a Catastrophe-on 4-18-12 for a copper fire in hays woods in pittsburgh on city property.all the chrges were withdrawn. burning copper can cost you all your copper if a pissed cop shows up and charge you with charges that wont stick but will put you in jail for a month. case#: MJ-05236-CR-0000059-2012

chuck June 5, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Tie to off and strip one foot at a time. Spent hours stopping and those sucky red handled bulky ones work the best you can get two hands on em to strip more at a time

Suzanne Reynolds August 2, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Kates Grandma

Thank you so very much for your comments! We live in California and I am the only one calling Sheriff, Fire Dept. etc. and they are so rude and make me out as making the whole thing up! Last night I got so angry after my heaalthy, beautiful dog started falling back and forth and now can’t stand up without falling over because of all the toxins that enter our house …we also are downwind and the other neighbors put their head in the sand and are of no help in trying to get these criminals arrested… I think you’re right when you say they government agencys are paid off. We live in a gated community and when i call the sheriff their place is all cleaned up and they make me out as a liar. Last night i jumped into my car went around back and took pictures while the fire was burning…I’ll let you know if these pictures get me anywhere.
Pleaase, anyone out there help Grandma and me. I am 74 years old and need a solution as it makes me deathly ill….thank you, Suzanne

Brian October 11, 2014 at 9:14 pm

I am an electrician and I agree that burning is bad but I do it !! The loss you talk about is mostly because of the gauge of the wire and the type of wire .. If you get some 8 gauge THHM then the insulation is my h thinner and you looSe less weight .. Stripping the insulation is allways more profitable tho !!! Goodnite. My wire is ready to take off the fire now

marvin March 26, 2015 at 9:11 pm

can they charge me on the clean air act if I didn’t burn the metal myself??

K April 9, 2015 at 5:46 pm

I will not allow anyone to poison my body without taking legal action.Common sense.Burning these wires is very very bad for your body

korky August 18, 2015 at 6:51 pm

What if it were burned in a housefure or something?

William December 19, 2015 at 5:45 pm

In that case, in most states the scrap can be legally sold when accompanied by a report from the fire officials confirming the burning of the wires was due to accidental causes.

Grant Craig December 7, 2016 at 1:52 pm

Dont be dumb no yr not going to get charged

Brett February 14, 2016 at 12:24 am

For easy wire stripping, just stick a pocketknife into the insulation and cut lengthwise along the wire. It’s fast, easy, and works like a charm.

Debra February 29, 2016 at 9:11 pm

I am so tired of my neighbors poisoning me with their burning wire I contact the authorities and fire department and yet it continues i can not stand this anymore someone tell me what other steps to take before it is to late…. This is crazy they can not get that much money from burning wire and yet they continue to poison their neighbors iam at my wit’s end thought buy a house settle down in nice neighborhood wrong answer I am not gonna let myself be brought down for pennies they make off

Mary Rangel August 7, 2016 at 7:25 pm

Going thru the same situation!!!!

Doug March 12, 2016 at 11:00 pm

Tried posting this before for some reason it didn’t work so figured I’d try again…. I live in Ohio out in the sticks in a little township I have a pretty decent sized scrap pile I was planning on sorting and hauling in when scrap prices go up. (If they ever do that is) well the other day I got some papers from my county health department giving me 31 days to get rid of my scrap pile saying its a public health hazard and that it’s dumping of solid waste how can they do this and why it’s a scrap pile it’s not like it’s garbage? If anyone has any thoughts on this or knows of anyway to get it so I can keep my scrap pile please let me know….
Doug from Ohio

Mary Rangel August 7, 2016 at 6:46 pm

For the past 2 nights, my neighbor has been burning bunches of wire inside of a shopping cart at 3AM. It’s just feet below my window and gives of this awful smell forcing me too close them. Who should I contact???

David January 31, 2017 at 6:29 pm

I do not know who you can contact in the US. I know that my grandfathers neighbor (In Mexico) sold drugs and he knew all the tricks of the trade. After my grandpa died, I needed some cash and he advised me to pull the wire out of the old television we had in the backyard. I did pull out the wire but it was too hard to strip. He told me, “Just burn it.” I did so and got some decent money compared to the other scrap metal I recycled. I got probably $50 pesos more which is about $5 US for the burning the toxic material inside the TV. It was a little more $ but I felt bad because all the sky turned black! Since I was at a Northern border city in Mexico, I imagined that everyone in the neighboring city in the US could see my graffiti in the sky. I felt morally wrong but I was able to afford some food.

fred October 4, 2016 at 5:30 pm

I pick up kiln burnt wire from a electric motor rewind shop. Is it also illegal

steve ct December 9, 2016 at 9:03 pm

firstly my idea of drawing the fumes through water is evidently an old idea as I found in an old popular mechanics. another article uses a transformer high current low voltage to heat up the cable and soften the pvc short lengths at a time it works you still get a wee bitty of fumes so still get a mask if you are working indoors

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