Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Trash Burning Worldwide Significantly Worsens Air Pollution

29.08.2014

Unregulated trash burning around the globe is pumping far more pollution into the atmosphere than shown by official records.

A new study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimates that more than 40 percent of the world’s garbage is burned in such fires, emitting gases and particles that can substantially affect human health and climate change.


Photo courtesy Global Environment Facility.

Open burning of trash, as seen here in General Santos, Philippines, is a global phenomenon that has significant effects on air quality.

The new study provides the first rough estimates, on a country-by-country basis, of pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxide, and mercury that are emitted by the fires. Such pollutants have been linked to serious medical issues.

The researchers also estimated emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas produced by human activity.

Unlike emissions from commercial incinerators, the emissions from burning trash in open fires often go unreported to environmental agencies and are left out of many national inventories of air pollution. For that reason, they are not incorporated into policy making.

“Air pollution across much of the globe is significantly underestimated because no one is tracking open-fire burning of trash,” said NCAR scientist Christine Wiedinmyer, lead author of the new study. “The uncontrolled burning of trash is a major source of pollutants, and it’s one that should receive more attention.”

Quantifying the extent of burning trash may change how policy makers track emissions, as well as how scientists incorporate air pollution into computer models used to study the atmosphere.

Because trash burning is unregulated and unmonitored, Wiedinmyer said that actual emissions could be larger or smaller than the study’s estimates by a factor of two. Still, the analysis represents the most comprehensive effort to date to account for emissions from trash burning.

The new study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, was funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR’s sponsor. It was co-authored by scientists from the University of Montana and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who were also involved in measuring the composition of trash-burning emissions.

-----Shrouded in smoke-----

Trash burning is a global phenomenon. But it is most prevalent in developing countries where there are fewer trash disposal facilities, such as landfills and incinerators.

The amount of garbage burned in remote villages and crowded megacities is likely on the rise, as more people worldwide are consuming more goods. The trash often contains discarded plastics and electronics as well as traditional materials such as food scraps and wood.

Wiedinmyer began wondering about the impact of burning trash while visiting remote villages in Ghana. The villages were shrouded in smoke caused in part from trash fires that smoldered all day.

To estimate emissions from trash fires, Wiedinmyer and her co-authors compared population figures and per capita waste production with official tallies of trash disposal for each country in the world. They estimated that 1.1 billion tons, or 41 percent, of the total waste generated worldwide is disposed of through unregulated burning every year.

The countries that produce the most total waste, according to the study’s methods, are heavily populated countries with various levels of industrial development: China, the United States, India, Japan, Brazil, and Germany. But the nations with the greatest emissions from trash burning are populous developing countries: China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, and Turkey, the study concluded.

By analyzing consumption patterns in each country, the research team then estimated the type and amount of pollutants from the fires.

The study concluded that as much as 29 percent of human-related global emissions of small particulates (less than 2.5 microns in diameter) come from the fires, as well as 10 percent of mercury and 40 percent of a group of gases known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These pollutants have been linked to such significant health impacts as decreased lung function, neurological disorders, cancer, and heart attacks.

Trash burning in some countries accounts for particularly high quantities of certain types of pollutants. In China, for example, 22 percent of larger particles (those up to 10 microns in diameter) come from burning garbage.

The global impact on greenhouse gas emissions appears to be less, though still significant, with burning trash producing an estimated 5 percent of human-related carbon dioxide emissions. (By comparison, the Kyoto Protocol strove for a global 5 percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions from industrialized countries.) In certain developing countries—such as Lesotho, Burundi, Mali, Somalia, and Sri Lanka—the trash burning produces more carbon dioxide than is tallied in official inventories. This discrepancy can be important in international negotiations over reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Wiedinmyer said the next step in her research will be to track the pollutants to determine where they are having the greatest impacts.

“This study was a first step to put some bounds on the magnitude of this issue,” she said. “The next step is to look at what happens when these pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere—where are they being transported and which populations are being most affected.”

-----About the article-----

Title: Global Emissions of Trace Gases, Particulate Matter, and Hazardous Air Pollutants from Open Burning of Domestic Waste

Authors: Christine Wiedinmyer, Robert J. Yokelson, and Brian K. Gullett

Publication: Environmental Science and Technology

-----On the Web----

For news releases, images, and more:
www.ucar.edu/atmosnews

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) manages NCAR under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this release do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Contact Information

David Hosansky, NCAR/UCAR Media Relations
303-497-8611
hosansky@ucar.edu

Bob Henson, NCAR/UCAR Media Relations
303-497-8605
bhenson@ucar.edu

David Hosansky | newswise

Further reports about: Burning Environmental NCAR Pollution Trash UCAR dioxide emissions greenhouse pollutants

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht How fires are changing the tundra’s face
12.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

nachricht Using drones to estimate crop damage by wild boars
12.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A whole-body approach to understanding chemosensory cells

13.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

Water without windows: Capturing water vapor inside an electron microscope

13.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cellular Self-Digestion Process Triggers Autoimmune Disease

13.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>