The open burning of waste is a disposal method of waste or garbage. It is a disposal method used globally, but often used in low and middle-income countries that lack adequate waste disposal infrastructure. Numerous governments and institutions have identified the open burning of waste as a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It also poses health risks with the cocktail of air pollutants often created when waste is burned in an open air environment.

At COP26 open waste burning was raised as a major contributor to climate change.[1] It produces a wide range of atmospheric pollutants including short lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), such as black carbon (BC). BC emissions are a major source of fine particulate matter, with a climate change impact up to 5,000 greater than CO2.


The United Nations has raised concerns about the amount of black carbon and methane produced from open burning as a method of waste disposal.[2] Many cities and regions suffer with air pollution and low air quality as a direct result of open burning of waste.[3][4][5]

According to the Canadian government it is common for many toxic gases to be released into the atmosphere as a result of open burning of waste. They can include arsenic, mercury, lead, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.[6] Studies by researchers from London's King’s and Imperial colleges both showed that burning of polystyrene and polyethylene terephthalate produce high amounts of soot. Both are common in plastic water bottles.[7]

The climate change conference COP26 held an official side event focused on raising awareness of the open burning of waste.[8] In September 2022, an agreement was reached on reducing open waste burning in Africa at the 18th session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). The conference hosted delegates from 54 African countries.[2][9][10]

Sustainability & impact

The reduction of open burning can drastically change the air pollutants in the local area, therefore having a transformational impact on human health in that particular region.[11] The Global Review on Safer End of Engineered Life suggested that the health of tens of millions of people worldwide was impacted by the disposal practice, with up to one billion tonnes burned globally each year.[12]

At a United Nations summit in 2022, the delegation focused on job creation as one potential solution to eradicate the practice of open burning of waste, namely in Africa.[2] Up to 80% of waste generated in African cities is recyclable, with an estimated value of $8 billion each year. Many institutions see this as an opportunity to create jobs, while improving the health and air quality on the continent.[13]


  1. ^ "A wasted opportunity: Open burning of waste causes a climate and health calamity". COP26.
  2. ^ a b c "African Environment Ministers vow to end plastic pollution, eliminate open dumping and burning of waste, address antimicrobial resistance". United Nations Environment Programme. September 26, 2022.
  3. ^ "Kathmandu's toxic trash". Nepali Times. January 14, 2023.
  4. ^ "Open burning of municipal solid waste poses health and environmental risks: experts". The Hindu. March 20, 2023.
  5. ^ "In Lucknow, Waste burning in open, ban goes up in smoke". Times of India. February 24, 2023.
  6. ^ "Open burning of garbage: health and environmental risks". Canadian government.
  7. ^ Fuller, Gary (July 18, 2019). "Pollutionwatch: soot study shows harm from open waste burning". The Guardian.
  8. ^ "Open burning of waste: time for urgent action". BusinessInsider. November 8, 2021.
  9. ^ Uwaegbulam, Chinedum (October 3, 2022). "African ministers commit to end open dumping, waste burning". The Guardian (Nigeria).
  10. ^ "African Environment Ministers vow to end plastic pollution, eliminate open dumping and burning of waste, address antimicrobial resistance". United Nations Environment Programme. September 16, 2022.
  11. ^ "The economic cost of opening burning of waste". CNBC Africa. November 11, 2021.
  12. ^ "The burning question at the heart of global waste". University of Leeds. January 7, 2021.
  13. ^ "Burning waste must end: African leaders look to recycling for better health and value". The Conversation. November 10, 2022.