Waste Policy

Waste Policy

International Regulation, Comparative and Contextual Perspectives

New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series

Alexander Gillespie

The book’s premise is that all forms of waste are expanding exponentially, and are often of a hazardous nature. The author examines the size of the problem, considers how it is evolving, and assesses the legal and political implications. He then shows that existing solutions to reducing consumption and recycling are limited, and concludes by discussing potential ways forward.

Chapter 5: Disposal into the air

Alexander Gillespie

Subjects: environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, public international law


The burning of waste in open spaces is a practice which goes back thousands of years. Today, it remains a common form of waste disposal in the developing world. Conversely, it is uncommon in developed countries, and especially in urban areas, to light fires to burn waste in an unregulated manner. This practice has largely come to an end because of the clear environmental and social risks of poor incineration and the associated air pollution that is imposed upon surrounding communities when waste is burnt in an ineffective way. These hazards have increased as the waste streams have changed, and the waste that is burnt is more likely to include material containing toxic contaminants. This is not to suggest that the burning of waste does not happen in the developed world. This is incorrect. What has largely ended is uncontrolled burning. The practice of controlled burning, via either industrial incinerators, cement kilns or medical incinerators, is an ongoing practice. Where debate has arisen has been with the incineration of municipal waste for the twin purposes of waste disposal and energy recovery. This is an issue which evolved out of the 1990s when it became argued that burning waste to dispose of it, and make energy from it at the same time, may be the best option. The opposing view has been that controlled burning, like open burning, may also release dangerous pollutants. The surrounding evidence is the source of debate.

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