In accordance with the WHO's guidelines, the air quality in Papua New Guinea is considered moderately unsafe. The most recent data indicates the country's annual mean concentration of PM2.5 exceeds the recommended maximum of 10 µg/m3 [1]. In 2019, PNG ranked the country with the highest pollution-related deaths per 100,000 people in the Western Pacific region, according to the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP). Air pollution is the main pollution-related risk for death and disease in the country [2].

Waste generation is also becoming a major concern for the country [3]. According to PNG’s Waste Audit Report 2021, average waste generation rate in PNG is estimated at 0.39kg per capita per day [4]. However, in Port Moresby, Lae, and other cities, municipal solid waste (MSW) generation rates are likely higher, and probably considerably lower in rural areas [5]. Household waste collection is the responsibility of local governments, but in some circumstances, generally limited to urban areas, private sector contractors provide these services [4]. Most urban Local Level Government and Authorities throughout the country do not have the capacity to properly regulate the disposal of both solid and chemical waste produced by urban towns and cities. This results in the pollution of the country’s water ways, beaches and seas through illegal dumping of uncontrolled waste [6].

Disposal infrastructure (e.g., landfills) in the country are in limited supply and are generally of a rudimentary design and operating standard. In addition to Baruni and Second Seven disposal sites, there are understood to be a further 21 disposal sites around PNG. It is unlikely these facilities are lined, leachate managed or covered daily and likely that regular burning is retained as a tool to manage volume capacity and as vector control [4]. Open burning of waste is a serious health and environmental concern to the public [3].

The Baruni landfill, in Port Moresby, covers an area of approximately nine hectares and receives approximately 200 tonnes of solid waste per day. In recent years, the National Capital District Commission received support through the JICA J-PRISM program for the design and operation of constructed lined and leachate managed cells at the site. However, prior to this, Baruni had been operated as an uncontained site since its establishment in the 1980s, likely resulting in environmental issues related to groundwater and soil quality adjacent to the site. Further, a daily cover regime does not seem to be in place at Baruni and evidence of fires on the landfill are still common [4].

Large-scale mining operations in PNG are causing long-term impacts to water quality [6]. For instance, the Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) gold mine releases mine waste, known as tailings, from the mine facility into the Pongema River at an average rate of over 14,000 tons per day. The tailings discharge forms what local residents refer to as the “Red River” [7]. Water samples were collected in three major rivers running through the Porgera Special Mining Lease (SML), as well as in five creeks and the “Red River” of tailings waste. The samples revealed high concentrations of heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, nickel, arsenic, and zinc, often exceeding one or both of the WHO Drinking-water Quality Guidelines and the PNG Drinking Water Standards [8].


Air quality in Papua New Guinea is affected by vehicle emissions, the mining industry, the oil and gas industry, and waste burning [1]. In addition, indoor air pollution results from the burning of solid fuels for household cooking and heating [9]. On average, only 8% of PNG’s population has access to clean cooking fuels. The furthest behind groups are households in the bottom 40 percent of wealth distribution living in rural areas with primary education as the highest level of education, among which none have access to clean cooking fuels [6].

Waste management challenges in PNG are largely caused by unplanned urbanization [6]. Illegal dumping and burning of waste are also common practices due to lack of public awareness and education, inadequate waste collection services in certain areas including the city’s large informal settlement areas, and insufficient funding for adequate enforcement of legislation, including the imposition of fines [5].

In PNG, the disposal of mine tailings into water bodies is a major source of water pollution and sediment build up downstream in the catchments where mines are located [10]. Additionally, water supplies are threatened by the increasing amount of domestic waste, including sewage and solid wastes [11]. Manufacturing activities such as canneries, and illegal dynamite fishing also contribute to water pollution in PNG [2].


Key policies and governance approach

The Environment Act, 2000 makes provision for the protection of the environment, in particular of water resources, air and soil [12]. It covers a wide range of matters including, environmental offences, environmental policies, environmental impact assessment and environment permits. The following regulations have been created under the Act: Environment (Prescribed Activities) Regulations 2002; Environment (Permits) Regulation 2002; Environment (Fees and Charges) Regulation 2002; Environment (Council’s Procedure) Regulation 2000; and Environment (Water Quality Criteria) Regulation 2002 [13]. The Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) is the government agency mandated to monitor and regulate all environment and conservation activities in the country, under the Environment Act 2000 and the Conservation and Environment Act (CEPA) Act 2014 [14].

CEPA has been engaged in preparing regulations subordinate to the Environment Act, 2000 and to support the implementation of provisions contained in the Minamata Convention, which PNG is yet to ratify. The Environment (The Control and Management of Mercury) Regulations, 2019 will establish measures and conditions for the use, storage, manufacture and trade in mercury, mercury compounds and mixtures and mercury-added products and the management of wastes. Similarly, CEPA has led the drafting of the Environment (Hazardous Waste Management) (Control of Transboundary Movement) Regulations, 2018 to further support the implementation of provisions contained within the Basel and Waigani Conventions, each ratified by PNG in 1995 [4].

CEPA have also, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), SPREP, JICA, Department of National Planning and Monitoring (DNPM) and NCDC, coordinated the drafting of the country’s first National Waste and Chemical Management Policy, 2020-2030: Changing Our Ways (NWCMP) [4]. This policy aims to provide a cohesive and uniform approach across the country for the management and disposal of solid and chemical waste [6].

Under the Public Health Act 1973, enacted by the Public Health (Sanitation and General) Regulation, the Head of State may make regulations on a wide range of matters, including the prevention of the pollution of natural water courses and the maintenance of the purity of water supply; and the disposal of waste [13]. The regulation specifies household waste storage and regulates waste picking and waste disposal activities while providing for fines in association with illegal dumping [4].



The Environment Act, 2000 provides the principal legal and institutional framework for environmental planning and protection in the country, although there is weakness in its enforcement and coordination [15]. Additionally, major constraints, within CEPA, have been identified in PNG’s draft State of the Environment report, including poor coordination and collaboration between different levels of government and sectoral institutions; ineffective monitoring and evaluation, and compliance and enforcement, as per the Environment Act; and weak capacity [14].

With regards to waste management, as the responsibility for the provision of waste services rests with local level governments, so too does the allocation of levies/charges to cover the costs of the services. Outside of the major centres, the application and collection of waste management revenue are therefore limited, and the largely unfunded expenses are reflected in the standard of infrastructure and collection systems in place [4].

Further, lack of consistent data on the composition and quantity of solid waste being produced is a contributing factor to the poor management of solid and liquid waste. Good data is necessary for the design of new landfill sites and for setting targets for waste reduction, reuse, recycling. This will allow for measuring the success of any waste minimization initiatives [14].  


Initiatives and Development Plans

From 2018-2021, UNEP has been undertaking a project designed to assist the Papua New Guinea Government in developing an effective and sound waste and chemical management system by strengthening the institutional structures within CEPA. The project addresses the following key priorities: 1) the development of a national policy and legal framework for wastes and chemicals management and 2) to ensure an effective coordination system are in place to address waste and chemical management issues including assisting a municipality to develop its waste management plan [16].



  • Strengthen compliance with and enforcement of the Environment Act, 2000. 
  • Capacity building within CEPA.
  • Encourage private sector investment in waste management services.
  • Improve data on composition and quantity of solid waste being produced.
  • PNG should consider developing regulations on air pollution and air quality as this sector needs to be monitored and currently represents a gap. Air quality monitoring of urban areas and nearby rural areas is needed to determine annual CO2 emissions and other air pollutants and their sources. There are opportunities for targeted policies and regulations to limit emissions (e.g., waste burning, polluting vehicles, air conditioning and ozone depleting substances, etc.).
  • An expanded water quality monitoring programme is needed to identify the most critical water bodies for increased controls. 
  • The Government needs to allocate more resources and monitoring on the establishment of sewage treatment systems, including in all urban centres in PNG.
  • There is also a need to monitor coral reefs and reef fish diversity and density to understand the water quality trends in the inshore marine environment.

[1] IAMAT (2021). [Online]. Available:

[2] Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) (2019). POLLUTION AND HEALTH METRICS: Global, Regional, and Country Analysis December 2019.

[3] Thomas Wangi (2013). Solid waste management in Papua New Guinea. [Online]. Available:

[4] Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) (2021). Waste Audit Report PAPUA NEW GUINEA.

[5] Asian Development Bank (2014). Solid Waste Management in the Pacific Papua New Guinea Country Snapshot.

[6] Department of National Planning and Monitoring (2020). PAPUA NEW GUINEA’S VOLUNTARY NATIONAL REVIEW 2020 Progress of Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

[7] Columbia Climate School (2019). Mining Pollution Limits Access to Clean Water in Papua New Guinea. [Online]. Available:

[8] Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic & AC4, Earth Institute, Columbia University (2019). Red Water: Mining and the Right to Water in Porgera, Papua New Guinea.

[9] Desai MA, Mehta S, Smith KR (2004). Indoor smoke from solid fuels: Assessing the environmental burden of disease at national and local levels. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2004 (WHO Environmental Burden of Disease Series, No. 4).

[10] GEF, UNDP, SOPAC, UNEP (2007). National Integrated Water Resource Management Diagnostic Report Papua New Guinea.

[11] SPREP (2004). The priority environmental concerns of Papua New Guinea.  

[12] ECOLEX (2021). Environment Act 2000 (No. 64 of 2000). [Online]. Available:

[13] Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and EDO NSW (2018). PAPUA NEW GUINEA REVIEW OF NATURAL RESOURCE AND ENVIRONMENT RELATED LEGISLATION.

[14] Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (2019). 2019 PNG State of the Environment Report _First Draft 16.07.19.

[15] UNEP (2015). Air Quality Policies.

[16] UNEP (2021). [Online]. Available: