A recent scientific study estimates that more than 40% of the world’s trash is being burned. The study was published on Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology and aimed to bring more attention to the severity of effects caused by burning trash and debris as a method of disposal.

“Air pollution across much of the globe is significantly underestimated because no one is tracking open-fire burning of trash,” said NCAR scientist Christine Wiedinmyer, lead researcher of the government-funded National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), in Boulder, Colorado. “Doing this study made me realize how little information we really have about garbage burning and waste management. What’s really interesting is all the toxins. We need to look further at that.”

The study presents a country by country index that displays rough emission estimates of carbon dioxide and other toxic chemicals that are linked to diseases. The index is only a draft that is based on estimates, and the scientists acknowledge that the numbers could be off by as much as 20% to 50%. There is a lot of room for improvement, but Wiedinmyer says she hopes it will be enough for policy makers and officials to do something about the issue.

To estimate the omissions from trash fires, the scientists pulled together data on population, per capita trash production, and how much disposal is recorded through the waste facilities. They found that approximately 1.1 billion tons (about 41%) of the world’s 2 billion tons of trash is disposed of through methods of burning each year.

The problem occurs most often in developing countries where there are fewer trash disposal facilities. China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, and Turkey are the countries that were found to produce the most emissions from disposing of trash through burning. Some people in impoverished countries are taking advantage of the trash burning for keeping warm.

Since burning trash has such adverse effects on the environment, one would think that the issue would get more attention. The reality of the matter is that since much of the burning is done in open fires, the omissions go unreported to environmental agencies and are not inventoried with air pollution. Currently, there are no laws regulating the issue.

Uncontrolled burning of trash is a large source of air pollutants, and one that should be addressed. Some of the gasses and pollutants that are released into the air can have significant health impact and can decrease lung function or cause neurological disorders, cancer and heart attacks.

The first step was figuring out the magnitude of the issue. That’s what this study aimed to figure out. The next step is to figure out what happens with these pollutants, how they travel, and what populations are most affected by them.

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The results of the scientific study were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Story from The Associated Press and Nature World News