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Why Burning Wrapping Paper Could Be Dangerous: A Post-Christmas Special

burning wrapping paper

One of the best things about Christmas, of course, is finally getting to unwrap those presents under the tree – finally finding out what was in that big box.  “Oh, it’s a smaller box inside a bigger box.  Great, how clever.  I had no idea it was actually socks this whole time.  And here I am excited thinking it was that microwave I needed.  Thanks.”  Yes, opening presents is great fun, but what we’re left with is a big ole pile of wadded up wrapping paper. And once you finally tear that last crumpled up ball from the mouth of your dog (that’s been running around the house with it and shaking it all about) you might feel compelled to just toss it in the fireplace and be done with it.  Well, if you’re like me you’ve heard over and over that you shouldn’t burn your discarded Christmas wrapping paper.  But what’s the deal with that warning and why shouldn’t we just toss that holiday detritus into the fireplace?

Wood, paper, and other organic substances all burn at a maximum of 2000 degrees Celsius.  This is called the adiabatic temperature, or the theoretical maximum.  Now, the actual flame is a lot less than this and it varies widely on how much oxygen it can get and how well the substance burns, i.e. how wet it is.

You see, moisture content is a big factor between burning wood and paper.  Let’s take air-dried oak for an example.  It contains about 20 percent moisture and all that has to be boiled off  during the burning process.  All that boiling off takes energy and it slows down the combustion of the wood.  Paper, on the other hand, only contains about 5 percent moisture and can burn quicker.

Another factor in how paper can burn faster is how quickly oxygen can combine with the fuel.  Logs in a fireplace have more mass and more potential heat energy and can burn longer, but the paper has a much higher ratio of surface to mass and can burn quicker.  The paper can basically pump out more heat and far faster.

Alright, so that’s one thing.  The other thing is flame height.  If you pile up a bunch of wrapping paper to burn in your fireplace then the flames are going to go much higher for a period of time.  Well, every chimney has a layer of creosote, resin, and other combustible junk built up within it.  If the flame height reaches this material for too long you’ve got a potential for a problem – a “we should probably call the fire department” problem.

And yet another issue are embers.  When you burn paper in a fireplace little pieces can break off, float up the smoke stack, leave the top of the chimney, and potentially land on your lawn or roof top.  That is to say if it survives the ascent of the smoke stack and doesn’t ignite any of the gunk on the inside.

So this holiday season, and the holidays that follow, think twice about burning that paper in the fireplace.  If you don’t want to reuse the paper then your best bet is to chuck ’em all into a garbage and let the city take it away.

Hey, you can also visit this link here for Ten Uses for Used Wrapping paper.

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