Breathing In Plastic

What springs to mind when you think of air pollution? If you live in a relatively developed part of the world, it’s likely to conjure up thoughts about exhaust fumes from cars on busy roads, or dense smoke being pumped into the air from power stations or factories.

For people in poorer countries though, it’s likely that the first thing they’d think of would be the piles of burning waste on their doorstep.

Rubina, who lives in Pakistan with her young family, told us what the situation was like before Tearfund’s waste management project started cleaning up the area.

People would burn waste in the open since there were no other means of disposal. This would cause my children to cough and get sick, especially when soft drink bottles were burnt along with other plastics, causing thick, dense smoke.”

Sadly Rubina’s situation is far from an exception. For the 2 billion people worldwide who lack rubbish collection, burning the waste that mounts up near their homes is often the only practical way of getting rid of it.

This World Environment Day (5 June), the United Nations are highlighting the dangers of air pollution and calling for action. They estimate that globally over 40% of waste is burned in the open air, meaning that this is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions from poorer countries. Every 30 seconds, 30 double-decker busloads of plastic waste are dumped or burned in poorer countries.

The health impacts of burning waste on this scale are devastating. Tearfund’s new report, No Time To Waste states that toxic fumes from burning plastic increases the risk of ‘diseases such as heart disease and cancer, respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema, skin and eye diseases, nausea and headaches and damage to the reproductive and nervous systems’.

Rubina’s community is now benefiting from waste collection thanks to a project by Tearfund’s partner PMS, so their rubbish no longer has to be burned. But simply managing the waste that has been created only goes so far - to really tackle the problem we need to look upstream to the source of the waste.

Multinational companies like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are producing millions of items in single-use packaging in countries where there is no waste collection. Tearfund is calling on them to take responsibility for their rubbish by making commitments to reduce and collect up their waste.

Please join with Rubina and our Waste Global Moment this World Environment Day to urge these companies to stop the rubbish. Together we can beat air pollution and transform the lives of millions of people living in poverty.

See our waste action page for tips on how to get involved.

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