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Burning Plastic Contributing to Toxic Haze Around the World

Investments in solid waste management a double win for health and environment

(New York, USA) –This Earth Day, focused on ending plastic pollution, Vital Strategies calls on governments, development and donor organizations to address open burning of plastics in municipal solid waste and informal recycling operations. Open waste burning is an important cause of outdoor air pollution, a leading threat to human health that is responsible for an estimated 6.5 million deaths each year.

“Air pollution has no political boundaries and requires coordinated, global action,” said José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies. “92% of the world’s population live in places where air quality exceeds WHO guidelines. Outdoor and household air pollution affect the health of millions of people around the world, and disproportionately impact the poor. It’s critical for the global community to recognize air pollution as a major factor in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like lung disease and cancer, to mobilize funding for pollution prevention, and to endorse public health policies that protect the most vulnerable.”

“From the visible smog that hangs over cities to the burning of biomass fuel in households, poor air quality leaves countries at risk,” said Daniel Kass, Senior Vice President of the Environmental Health division at Vital Strategies. “Pollution-related health problems like cancer or lung disease are preventable, but governments must first recognize that pollution is a major risk factor. Over the last few years, we have started to see some governments address pollution as both health and environmental problem, but continued progress will require leaders at the highest levels to integrate pollution control and public health agendas.”

Plastics are abundant in municipal solid waste and in electronic waste (e-waste). In many low-income countries, these wastes are burned openly because the countries lack formal solid and e-waste management systems. The resulting smoky pollution contributes air-born toxins that can travel for hundreds or thousands of miles, impacting health far beyond their source.

“Bans on open trash burning and informal e-waste recycling are not enough,” continued Dr. Kass. “They must be coupled with financing and development of alternatives, including municipal solid waste collection, formal recycling programs and clean energy. These are win/win strategies for health and environment: they will reduce the growing burden of NCDs like cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases – at the same time reducing emissions of pollutants contributing to climate change, such as black carbon.”

The Environmental Health division of Vital Strategies provides consultative services to reduce the global health burden of environmental risks and harms, including plastic pollution.

To learn more about the Environmental Health division at Vital Strategies, visit

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health expert, please contact