King's College London

Research portal

Experimental measurements of black carbon emission factors to estimate the global impact of uncontrolled burning of waste

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Natalia Reyna-Bensusan, David C. Wilson, Pamela M. Davy, Gary W. Fuller, Geoff D. Fowler, Stephen R. Smith

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629-639
Number of pages11
Early online date26 Jun 2019
Accepted/In press22 Jun 2019
E-pub ahead of print26 Jun 2019
Published15 Sep 2019

King's Authors


Open burning is a widely practiced method of solid waste disposal in many regions of the world and represents a significant source of air pollution. Black carbon (BC) is a particularly serious air pollutant emitted from the uncontrolled burning of waste in open fires because it has a global warming potential (GWP) up to 5000 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2) and is also linked to detrimental health impacts. However, few quantitative measurements of BC from open burning have been completed to establish the extent and impacts of this emission source on the environment. Emission factors (EFs) for BC from burning mixed solid waste samples were measured in the laboratory based on waste compositions in a representative developing country (Mexico). Black carbon EFs were also derived for individual waste types, including: green waste, different types of plastics, textiles and paper and cardboard. Individual waste BC EFs were combined using waste composition data from different areas of the world to estimate regional and global BC emissions from this source. The results demonstrated that BC emissions from open burning of waste have a significant climate impact, equivalent to 2–10% of global CO2Eq emissions. Global BC CO2Eq emissions from burning waste are 2–8 times larger compared to methane (CH4) CO2Eq emissions arising from the decomposition of equivalent amounts of combustible biodegradable waste disposed at dumpsites. Action to reduce open burning of waste would have a significant and immediate benefit to improving air quality and reducing the potential impact on climate change.

View graph of relations

© 2018 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454