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Global consortium led by Engineering X wins over $1 million for project to stop open burning of waste

A global project led by Engineering X – an international collaboration founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Lloyd’s Register Foundation, has been awarded $1.3 million from UNEP’s Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC).

The two-year project of transformative action has been developed by Engineering X in collaboration with the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Practical Action, and UN Habitat. The project builds on the significant experience of the partners in taking action to end the open burning of waste.

More than 2 billion people worldwide have no access to proper waste management and suffer significant morbidity from waste that is openly dumped or burned. Open burning of solid waste is also a major contributor to global air pollution and greenhouse gases. The problem is global but the impact of burning municipal solid waste is particularly acute in many low- and middle-income countries where people living and working near burning sites suffer the toxic effects of polluted air, ground, and water sources, including respiratory infections, immune disorders, reproductive abnormalities and premature death.

The two-year project funded by CCAC will focus on practical ways to reduce the open burning of solid waste and, in particular, on reducing the highly toxic, carcinogenic and powerful short-lived climate pollutants and greenhouse gases that result from the practice, such as black carbon. Black carbon is a component of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution. Approximately 4 million deaths worldwide each year are associated with long-term exposure to PM2.5 air pollution.

Despite evidence of the environmental, social and economic impact of open burning, awareness and understanding of the risks of open burning is poor. National and local governments, development partners, civil societies and development financing institutions need to address the practice as a matter of urgency and act together to ensure waste is properly managed. The three roadmaps planned for Africa, Asia, Latin America & the Caribbean will help increase action and awareness in these regions by equipping local and national governments and other relevant bodies with the knowledge and tools to plan and take action to reduce open burning of waste and toxic emissions. Activities will also include raising the profile of open burning with funders and connecting them to governments to focus on implementation.

Each roadmap will be built on information gathered from reviews of existing evidence and data, field surveys, consultative meetings, and interviews with key stakeholders. Each will include a picture of emissions of greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants per region using existing data. The road maps will be piloted in one city in each region. Lessons learned from these city pilots and the ongoing engagement with regional bodies will help to fine tune the roadmaps to improve their feasibility and sustainability at a regional level.

While the specific reasons for open burning of waste may vary in the three regions, they have in common some fundamental drivers such as an absence of basic waste management service and infrastructure, institutional weaknesses, and emissions of the highly toxic, carcinogenic and powerful short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon that are contributing to global climate change. The project will be guided by the principle ‘Think globally and act regionally’.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald GBE FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering said: “Engineers have an important role to play in tackling our many global challenges and Engineering X has had significant success in a relatively short space of time in raising awareness of the global practice of the open burning of waste and its impact. The Academy’s existing international networks have helped on this score but it is practical action at pace that is now needed if the open burning of waste is to be phased out worldwide.

“Despite its catastrophic impact on people’s health and the environment, many people rely on open burning of waste for their livelihoods, and it is important that lasting change is achieved through local, community-focused approaches. By leading this new international consortium with the support of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, I hope we can help those communities most affected to benefit from the economic and social opportunities afforded by more integrated and sustainable waste management systems.

“This project is a positive step towards tackling the scourge of open burning and we welcome other partners who could help us build on the results of this critical work in these regions. We also urge governments, funders, and international organisations to prioritise as a matter of urgency an integrated approach to phasing out open burning worldwide.”

Professor Desta Mebratu, Africa Project Lead for Engineering X said: “Open burning of waste is a key cause of poor air quality, which is responsible for 1.2 million deaths in Africa every year. If we can phase out this practice it will dramatically improve health outcomes for the local population and protect the most vulnerable, who are disproportionately affected by air pollution. There is also a huge socioeconomic opportunity for the African waste sector if it can pivot to treat waste as a valuable commodity in a circulated economy that supports decent jobs and livelihoods.

“I am pleased to be leading the development of the Africa Regional Roadmap after a longstanding engagement with Engineering X on this issue. It is very timely following the 2022 AMCEN resolution and the launching of a multi-stakeholder partnership at COP27 to end the open burning of waste in Africa by 2040. We look forward to engaging with all actors and call for more to join this vital work to eliminate open burning.”

Engineering X has been tackling the open burning of waste since 2021 as part of its work on safe disposal of waste, following a Global Review of what happens to consumer goods and other engineered products at the end of their useful life. Successes so far include:

  • Collaboration with the UN High-level Climate Champions to launch a multi-stakeholder partnership at COP27 to end the open burning of waste in Africa by 2040, putting the issue on the global agenda for the first time;
  • Support of 16 grants focused on addressing health impacts of open burning.
  • Publication of report Open burning in Africa: challenges and opportunities;
  • Resolution to end open burning in Africa by 2040 signed by 54 African Ministers at the 2022 African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN);
  • Implementation Lab at Africa Climate Week 2022 in Libreville, Gabon;
  • Side event at COP26, implementation Lab and Solutions Roundtable at COP27, and engagement with ISWA Waste and Resources Pavilion events at COP28.

Find out more about our work with Engineering X.

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