The health and climate imperatives to address open burning of waste

20 July, 2021
15:00
16:30 CEST (GMT-2)
Online event

The uncontrolled burning of waste takes place worldwide, particularly in lower-and–middle income countries (LMICs) where waste management systems are often limited in effectiveness or altogether non-existent. The evidence about this issue's prevalence and its harmful effects is generally poor. Waste is burnt in residential areas and within industrial or commercial premises due to the lack of availability, unreliability, or sometimes complete absence of waste collection and disposal systems. This can lead to a number of public and environmental health concerns. For example, there are often direct health impacts for those undertaking burning in confined spaces (for example, in factories), and for waste workers who burn electronic waste to extract the metals.

These e-wastes contain hazardous materials such as lead and arsenic. There are also risks posed to the communities where the waste is burnt, especially the most vulnerable people, such as children, older persons, pregnant women, and those with comorbidities. The waste can also directly lead to contamination of the land and water (surface and ground water), leading to more wide-spread risks.

Open burning of waste also produces a wide range of atmospheric pollutants including greenhouse gases, reactive trace gases, toxic compounds, and black carbon (BC). In particular, BC emissions are a major source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), a leading cause of poor health and premature deaths. They also have a climate change impact up to 5,000 times greater than CO2, and at a scale equivalent to 2-10% of global CO2eq emissions: potentially double the impact of aviation but attracting a fraction of the finance. However, emissions from open waste burning are challenging to characterize and therefore commonly excluded from inventories. Despite being a widespread practice with global consequences for the climate and public health, open burning of waste is still considered a local issue and receives little global, regional, or international attention.

ISWA, Engineering X, CCAC, IGES and WasteAid look to raise awareness at all levels to bring together a global movement to address this critical issue.

Event contact

Sandra Mazo-Nix ,
Municipal Solid Waste Initiative Coordinator
Sandra.Mazo-Nix [at] un.org

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