The amount of air pollution caused by the unregulated burning of rubbish is a lot higher than previously suggested, researchers have said.
The researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research said that 1.1 billion tons, which equals about 41%, of the total waste generated worldwide is disposed of through unregulated burning – each year.
The work showed that in China 22% of the larger type of air pollution particles came from burning garbage.
Air pollution is monitored on two difference scales, which relate to the diameter of particles in the air.
Fine particles are produced by all types of combustion including the use of cars, power plants, wood burning and some industrial processes.
Coarse dust particles are created from crushing or grinding operations and dust stirred by vehicles travelling on roads.
They identified China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, and Turkey, as the countries that generated the most emissions from burning trash.
The researchers put most of this down to the rapid expansion of developing countries, whether there are also fewer trans disposal facilities landfills and incinerators.
The researchers found that as much as 29% percent of global emissions of small particulates created come from fires.
This is as well as 10% or mercury and 40% of a group of gases known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These have all been said to have dangerous health impacts.
“Air pollution across much of the globe is significantly underestimated because no one is tracking open-fire burning of trash,” said 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.”
However Wiedinmyer said that the actual emissions could be higher or lower than the team’s estimates by a factor of two.
This is partly because it is incredibly difficult to measure and is unregulated.
She said: “This study was a first step to put some bounds on the magnitude of this issue.
“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.”
Image two courtesy of NCAR