1.a.9. Emissions of Particulates, Greenhouse Gases, and Air Pollutants from Open Waste Burning

Trash burning
Trash burning at a dump site.

The uncontrolled open burning of waste is a common method for waste disposal, particularly in developing countries. This type of burning occurs at residences as well as at dump sites. The burning of waste produces substantial emissions of air pollutants; yet, despite this common occurrence, emissions from open waste burning are not well constrained and are often omitted from inventories used for regional and global chemical and climate model simulations.

Together with colleagues at the University of Montan and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NESL ACD has developed a global open waste burning emissions inventory of air pollutants. The method developed follows greenhouse gas inventory guidelines from the IPCC, available population metrics and waste production information from the World Bank, and emissions factors from laboratory and field measurements.

Approximately 40% of all municipal solid waste produced globally is burned, with the majority in heavily populated developing countries. The countries with the most uncontrolled waste burning are China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, and Turkey. Globally, emissions of greenhouse gases, criteria air pollutants, particles, and toxics are substantial; however, they become increasingly important on regional scales. Open waste burning is estimated to emit 1400Tg CO2, an amount equivalent to 5% of the CO­2 emissions from anthropogenic sources. Air pollutants, such as particulate matter and dioxins, are emitted in large quantities. Results from this study suggest that anthropogenic emissions of particles are underpredicted in many regions of the world, particularly in Asia; particulate emissions in China could be underpredicted by as much as 20%.

Emissions of Carbon monoxide
Emissions of Carbon monoxide.

The emission estimates have been produced on a 0.1° grid resolution and are available as part of the Fire Inventory from NCAR (FINN) open burning emissions at http://bai.acd.ucar.edu/Data/fire/. These emissions will next be used as inputs to regional and global model simulations to assess their accuracy, importance and impacts.


Wiedinmyer, C., R. Yokelson, B. Gullet (2014) Global emissions of trace gases, particulate matter and hazardous air pollutants from open domestic waste burning. Environmental Science & Technology, 48, pp. 9523-9530, doi: 10.1021/es502250z/