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UN Environment Programme uses World Clean Air Day to address waste disposal

To add greater impact to their International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, which was held yesterday, the United Nations have been drawing people’s attention to the more overlooked problems concerning air quality.

As part of this, Shunichi Honda from the UN Environment Programme’s International Environment Technology Centre, gave his  insights into the effect waste disposal has on air quality around the world.

Two People Working on a Scrapyard

Concerning the link between waste and air pollution, he said: ‘About 50 per cent of the world’s waste is not managed properly. Unfortunately, a part of this mismanagement involves open dumping and burning. When waste is disposed of in this manner, it releases harmful substances into the air. This can significantly impact both our health and the environment, making it difficult to breathe, and worsening existing health problems. That’s why we need to manage our waste properly by recycling, composting, and safely treating waste. These actions help maintain the clean air, protecting both us and our planet.’

He goes on to explain what UN Environment Programme are doing to address this problem: ‘Think of UNEP as a guardian of our beautiful blue skies. We’re teaming up with governments in Asia, Africa and Latin America to ensure that waste doesn’t harm the air we breathe. We’re helping them develop better waste management plans, preventing it from ending up in places that can pollute the air, such as open dumps and burning sites. Additionally, we assist local waste teams in improving their waste-handling techniques to make the cities cleaner and normalize the circularity of waste as resources. These initiatives also contribute to improving the working conditions of informal workers in the waste management sector.’

Needless to say, in many parts of the world, people employed to work in this industry – often children – do so with the bare minimum of safety standards in place. This is an issue Shunichi is keenly aware of: ‘When UNEP assists local waste management teams in improving their practices, it directly benefits these informal workers. Safer and more environmentally friendly methods reduce the health and well-being risks, not just for the workers themselves but also for their families and communities. In simple words, UNEP’s efforts not only protect our skies but also uplift the lives of those who work hard to maintain the cleanliness of our environment.’

He concludes by explaining how individuals, corporations and governments can help mitigate the problem of waste disposal: ‘Do not throw away things easily and try to reuse and recycle as much as possible. Separate waste correctly and never litter. Small actions can make a big difference in keeping the air clean.

‘It’s not only up to individuals. Companies and governments also make a significant impact. Companies can use less packaging and create products with reduced waste. They can design their products to be easily recycled, and support regulations for improved waste management. Governments also play a crucial role. They can establish strong regulations to prevent dumping and burning. By investing in better waste handling methods, they contribute to everyone breathing cleaner air and enjoying a safer environment.

‘So whether you are an individual, a company, or part of the government, every little step matters in keeping the air clean, our skies blue, and our planet sustainable.’

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