Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Burning paper waste in the woodstove

I've never been very comfortable with fire, and have never been very good at setting fires in the woodstove, though over the years I've improved a good deal at it. I've learned to appreciate the sight of the flames primarily for the reassurance that the fire hasn't died out, but I'm not the kind of person who can enjoy staring into flames. Fire for me is strictly a practical thing; I balance a mild fear of fire with a firm appreciation of the warmth it provides, but have no particular sentiment for the flame itself.

But I've noticed one somewhat irrational appreciation. Many things that would be paper or cardboard recycling at other times of year are, at this time of year, kindling. But I find I enjoy the act of putting paper waste into the fire beyond my ability to justify this as a source of fuel or kindling. There's just some satisfaction in having the boxboard left from the pantry, a used tissue or paper towel, or some scrap corrugated from a shipment, go into the fire.

When it's something that's recyclable, like the corrugated, I recognize this is something I should limit to what actually is useful for getting the fire started. (Corrugated is great for this, though. It burns readily even in a cold woodstove, but it adds lots of heat quickly, helping wood catch.)

But for non-recyclable paper products, like the waxy boxboard or used paper towel, I am not so sure if I'm being irresponsible. Is it good that I'm keeping it out of landfills, or bad that I'm adding more smoke to the air? (If it were good to keep it out of landfills that way, wouldn't they just burn it themselves? But they can't, really, because they can't sort it out from the other stuff they shouldn't burn.) Is the tiny, tiny amount of heat it produces (since it serves as fuel) anything at all, even when multiplied by the many bits of such trash I might burn over the season? Are there other reasons why this is a good or bad idea?

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