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 New mathematical model can help save endangered species
14.01.2019 | University of Southern Denmark

nachricht Foxes in the city: citizen science helps researchers to study urban wildlife
14.12.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

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: Ultra ultrasound to transform new tech

World first experiments on sensor that may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles

The new sensor - capable of detecting vibrations of living cells - may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles.

Im Focus: Flying Optical Cats for Quantum Communication

Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.

In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...

Im Focus: Nanocellulose for novel implants: Ears from the 3D-printer

Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.

It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:

Im Focus: Elucidating the Atomic Mechanism of Superlubricity

The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.

One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...

Im Focus: Mission completed – EU partners successfully test new technologies for space robots in Morocco

Just in time for Christmas, a Mars-analogue mission in Morocco, coordinated by the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) as part of the SRC project FACILITATORS, has been successfully completed. SRC, the Strategic Research Cluster on Space Robotics Technologies, is a program of the European Union to support research and development in space technologies. From mid-November to mid-December 2018, a team of more than 30 scientists from 11 countries tested technologies for future exploration of Mars and Moon in the desert of the Maghreb state.

Close to the border with Algeria, the Erfoud region in Morocco – known to tourists for its impressive sand dunes – offered ideal conditions for the four-week...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Our digital society in 2040

16.01.2019 | Event News

11th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Aachen, 3-4 April 2019

14.01.2019 | Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A new twist on a mesmerizing story

17.01.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Brilliant glow of paint-on semiconductors comes from ornate quantum physics

17.01.2019 | Materials Sciences

Drones shown to make traffic crash site assessments safer, faster and more accurate

17.01.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>