Open waste burning prevention

Promoting alternatives to open burning to reduce black carbon emissions and to prevent the release of cancer-causing compounds and other toxic substances
Open waste burning
Ongoing
started:
2012

In communities with inadequate waste management systems, waste might be deliberately burned to free up space at dumpsites, to facilitate scavenging of non-combustible materials (such as metals) for profit, or for use as a heat source. In uncontrolled landfills and dump sites, waste may also spontaneously combust as the result of a combination of factors, including the emissions of flammable methane gas from biodegrading waste.

Waste burning is a significant source of dangerous carcinogens like dioxins and furans, and black carbon, a short-lived climate pollutant that contributes to climate change, increased melting in polar regions due to the deposition of soot and black carbon on snow and ice, and numerous human health issues.

Methane and Black Carbon Impacts on Health

Challenges

Open waste burning is a widespread practice spurred, in part, by a lack of systematic waste collection. Its diffuse nature – occurring at major landfills, small or remote dumpsites, and individual households – makes it a complex problem to address.

Even those aware of the consequences may continue to burn waste out of habit or because other disposal options are not readily available. Still, raising awareness about the significant health impacts of waste burning is key to stopping it, as is capacity building for local waste managers to collect waste and prevent build-ups of landfill gas that ignite spontaneously. 

Objectives

The Waste Initiative supports the adoption of policies and measures that will help national and local governments reduce black carbon emissions from open waste burning, reduce associated pollution that threatens local communities, and work towards universal collection through cooperation and planning with sub-national governments.

What we're doing

The Waste Initiative provides partners with tools and technical resources that will help them reduce the occurrence of open waste burning by:

  • Supporting the creation of integrated solid waste management systems that improve waste collection and reduce the occurrence of trash in streets or informal dumpsites susceptible to open burning. Integrated solid waste management systems often also include waste separation endeavours that bring informal waste pickers into the formal sector.
  • Supporting improved landfill management, which can reduce the occurrence of spontaneous fires.
  • Carrying out outreach efforts at the community level, to encourage waste prevention and to educate the public on the hazards of open waste burning. 

Benefits of taking action on municipal solid waste

Resources & tools

Activity contact

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

Initiatives

Pollutants (SLCP)

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