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Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2003-04

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335

Review of performance: Outcome 1 - Environment (continued)

Improving the environmental performance of Australian industry

The Department works with all levels of government, the community and industry to minimise the impact of industrial processes on Australia's environment.

In 2003-04, the Department worked to improve the environmental performance of industry and funded activities that protect the environment and human health from hazardous substances and organisms.

This section reports on activities funded using the Department's appropriation for its 'industry' output. For more information about the Department's industry-related activities see also:

The Policy Coordination and Environment Protection Division and the Supervising Scientist Division contributed to this output.

The environmental performance of industry

Objective

To work with industry, and state and territory governments, to improve the environmental performance of industry.

Activities
Industry partnerships

The Department works with industry through eco-efficiency agreements and product stewardship agreements. Eco-efficiency means using resources more efficiently so businesses save money and reduce environmental impacts. Product stewardship means the producers and users of goods and services share responsibility with government to manage environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of the goods and services, including the ultimate disposal of any wastes. See also the report on the operation of the product stewardship for oil arrangements in 'Other reports'.

The Department works with industry associations through voluntary three-year eco-efficiency agreements. During the year, new agreements commenced with the Fertilizer Industry Federation of Australia and the Queensland Canegrowers Organisation. Agreements were also completed with the Australian Food and Grocery Council and Avcare (the National Association for Crop Production and Animal Health). Avcare completed its agreement by publishing its third environment report in June 2004. The report showed that over the three years of their agreement, the industry achieved significant improvements in eco-efficiency, by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50 per cent, energy use by almost 40 per cent and water use by 17 per cent.

As at 30 June 2004, eco-efficiency agreements covered over 377 000 Australian businesses, including 6000 sugarcane growing businesses and 100 fertilizer businesses.

The Department also provides information and guidance to industry and the community on corporate sustainability (for example integrating environmental, social and economic considerations into business strategies), the built environment, and environmentally sustainable business practices (practical measures to help improve industries' environmental performance).

In September 2003 the Department published Corporate Sustainability - an Investor Perspective (the Mays Report). The report provided an investment industry view on the value of corporate sustainability. It showed sustainability is a good measure of management competency and indicator of long-term performance. These results can be used to encourage Australian companies to consider the environmental and social outcomes of their activities.

A survey of sustainability reporting practices in Australia commissioned by the Department found that sustainability reporting by Australian companies has increased from 57 companies publishing public environment reports in 2001-02, to 116 companies publishing sustainability reports in 2002-03. The Department expanded its Sustainability Reporting Library, and over 330 public environment reports and triple bottom line reports are now available at www.deh.gov.au/settlements/industry/corporate/reporting.

Following a public review, the Department finalised the National Australian Built Environment Rating System. This system enables building owners, tenants, and managers of existing commercial office buildings and residential homes to measure, report on, promote and improve the environmental performance of their buildings. The rating system is available at www.deh.gov.au/settlements/industry/construction/nabers.

As well, the Department:

National Environment Protection Council

The National Environment Protection Council consists of the environment ministers of each state, territory and the Australian Government. It aims to ensure that all Australians benefit equally from environmental protection and that business decisions and markets are not fragmented by state and territory boundaries. The Council has law-making powers and works cooperatively to develop these laws, called National Environment Protection Measures.

National Environment Protection Measures outline agreed national objectives for protecting or managing particular aspects of the environment, and are similar to statutory environmental protection policies used in some states and territories.

The Environment Protection and Heritage Council now incorporates the National Environment Protection Council. The statutory functions of National Environment Protection Council continue under the umbrella of Environment Protection and Heritage Council. The activities of the two councils were integrated to streamline discussions on environment protection options that combine policy and statutory elements.

As the Australian Government's contribution to supporting the National Environment Protection Council, the Department managed an administered appropriation called 'Commonwealth Contribution to the National Environment Protection Council Service Corporation'. See also the annual report of the National Environment Protection Council at www.ephc.gov.au/nepc/annual_reports.html.

In 2003-04, the National Environment Protection Council extended the operation of the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure to April 2005, pending a review of the National Packaging Covenant, which underpins the measure.

The covenant is a partnership between the Australian and state and territory governments and industry and is the leading instrument for managing packaging waste in Australia. Covenant partners are working to minimise the environmental impacts of consumer packaging waste throughout the life cycle of the packaging product, to close the recycling loop, including by developing economically viable and sustainable recycling collection systems.

The Department continued to support the National Packaging Covenant Council, a governing body established under the covenant, including by providing information services, helping signatories develop action plans, and monitoring compliance.

The environmental impacts of plastic shopping bags attracted significant attention during the year. While plastic bags provide a strong, cheap, and hygienic way to transport food and other products, the small percentage that end up in the litter stream can threaten marine animals. In 2002, Australians used about 6.9 billion plastic carry bags and up to 80 million of these found their way onto streets and parks and into waterways.

In October 2003, the Environment Protection and Heritage Council formally accepted the industry code of practice for plastic shopping bags developed by the Australian Retailers Association. Under the code, retailers are committed to reducing plastic carry bag use by 25 per cent by the end of 2004 and 50 per cent by the end of 2005. This national, voluntary approach allows retailers to adopt innovative and flexible solutions and avoid unnecessary costs. It also gives retailers and consumers time to embrace suitable alternatives. By the end of June 2004, more than 90 per cent of Australian supermarkets had signed up to the code of practice, including Coles, Foodland, Franklins and Woolworths.

The Department, together with state and territory governments, is monitoring progress through six-monthly reports from retailers.

The Department worked on other initiatives to reduce the number of plastic bags entering the environment, including best practice guidelines for litter management at landfills and public places, and national standards for degradable plastics. The Department also supported Clean Up Australia's consumer awareness campaign.

With new degradable plastic products such as bags coming on to the Australian market, the Environment Protection and Heritage Council asked Standards Australia to develop national standards for degradable plastics. The Department chairs the Standards Australia steering group for degradable plastics, which will establish definitions and performance expectations for producers of degradable plastic products.

The Australian Government is working with state and territory governments and the electrical and electronics industries to develop a product stewardship approach to managing electrical and electronic wastes.

The Department funded the Electrical and Electronic Products Infrastructure Facilitation study with the New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation. Along with pilot recycling projects undertaken in Sydney by New South Wales and in Melbourne by Victoria in, this work has identified barriers to effective collection and recycling of electrical and electronic products in Australia, and highlighted the need for industry-wide solutions.

The Department worked on developing a national solution to the problem of used tyres. In response to an approach by tyre manufacturers and importers, a Used Tyres Roundtable was established in October 2003.

The Department is also implementing the Greening of Government Programme to help Australian Government Departments and agencies improve their environmental efficiency and reduce costs through:

Figure 8: Number of Australian Government agencies that have environmental management systems (EMSs) as at 31 December 2003

Figure 8: Number of Australian Government agencies that have environmental management systems (EMSs) as at 31 December 2003

Water efficiency

The Sustainable Cities programme aims to make Australian cities and towns cleaner and more sustainable.

Through this programme, the Department worked in cooperation with state and territory governments and relevant industries to improve urban water efficiency.

In September 2003 the Environment Protection and Heritage Council agreed to implement a national mandatory Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards ('WELS') scheme for a range of urban products including washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, showerheads, taps and flow regulators.

The Department developed the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004 and an associated Regulation Impact Statement, which were introduced to the Parliament in June 2004. The Department is working with the states and territories on the scheme's implementation, and new water efficiency labels have been developed.

In November 2003, the Australian Government agreed to provide $1 million over five years to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives to help roll out the council's Water Campaign™ nationally. The Water Campaign™ will help improve water quality and water efficiency at the local and catchment levels.

The Department's efforts on urban water use and re-use contribute towards the urban component of the National Water Initiative agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments on 25 June 2004, available at www.coag.gov.au/meetings/250604 and www.deh.gov.au/water/policy.

National Pollutant Inventory

The National Pollutant Inventory provides policy makers, industry and the community with current and easily accessible information about pollutant emissions to the environment. It quantifies pollutant emissions to air, land and water from industrial and non-industrial sources. It is a collaborative programme of the Australian Government and state and territory governments. The Department publishes the National Pollutant Inventory at www.npi.gov.au.

The Department collated the total emissions from industrial facilities during 2002-03, and published the results in January 2004 (results for 2003-04 will be published in January 2005). The total emissions from industrial facilities of 50 of the 90 pollutants on the National Pollutant Inventory decreased compared to the previous year.

It is not clear what proportion of the decrease is attributable to improved environmental performance, the use of different estimation techniques, or changing production levels.

The Department promoted the National Pollutant Inventory by sending information brochures to schools, libraries and state and territory environment agencies. The National Pollutant Inventory web site had almost 585 000 hits - an increase of 130 000 since the previous year.

Uranium mining supervision and research

The Australian Government and the Northern Territory Government share responsibility for the uranium mines in the Alligator Rivers Region. The Supervising Scientist has a role defined in the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978, and is supported in this work by the Department's Supervising Scientist Division. For the Supervising Scientist's annual report, see www.deh.gov.au/about/annual-report.

The Department's Supervising Scientist Division includes the Office of the Supervising Scientist, which carries out supervision, audit and monitoring activities.

The Office of the Supervising Scientist also investigates incidents at mine sites to assess any environmental impacts. There were two serious incidents at Ranger during 2003-04, involving the contamination of potable water and contaminated earth-moving equipment. Investigations by the Supervising Scientist determined that it is most unlikely there will be any adverse longer term, or delayed, effects on the health of workers at Ranger, that the people and environment of Kakadu National Park which surrounds the Ranger Project Area, remained protected, and that the health of people living downstream was not harmed.

To provide the Supervising Scientist with the information required to undertake his role, the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist conducts research on the potential impacts of uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region.

On 14 October 2003, the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee tabled its report on Regulating the Ranger, Jabiluka, Beverly and Honeymoon uranium mines in the Australian Senate. The report included recommendations relevant to the Department's work. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet referred the Committee's report to the Department and as at 30 June 2004 the Department was developing a government response.

For more information, see the Supervising Scientist's annual report at www.deh.gov.au/about/annual-report.

Result

The Department's efforts to improve the sustainability of industry focused on improving urban water efficiency, and supporting the work of the National Environment and Protection Council, including reducing the use of plastic bags. This work complements the voluntary efforts of industry and the regulatory activities of state and territory governments and local councils.

The Environment Protection and Heritage Council agreed to the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme in September 2003. The scheme will improve the water and energy efficiency of household appliances, thereby reducing water consumption and greenhouse emissions and saving consumers money.

The first report on the use of plastic shopping bags, for the six months to June 2004, showed supermarkets are on track to meet their 2004 target: Australian supermarket shoppers reduced the number of plastic carry bags used by over half a billion or an annualised 29 per cent of bags used for supermarket shopping. The Department will continue to monitor the reduction to the end of 2004 against the 25 per cent target.

As at 30 June 2004, the National Packaging Covenant, a partnership between Australian and state and territory governments and industry to manage packaging waste, had 649 signatories representing all sectors of the packaging supply chain. The covenant now covers more than 80 per cent of domestic products (see Figure 9).

Figure 9: Number of signatories to the National Packaging Covenant (1999-2004)

Figure 9: Number of signatories to the National Packaging Covenant (1999-2004)

The National Pollutant Inventory continued to provide useful and accessible information on the pollutant emissions to the environment. The number of facilities reporting to the National Pollutant Inventory has increased steadily since 1998-99 (see Figure 10).

Figure 10: Number of industrial facilities reporting to the National Pollutant Inventory (1998-2003)

Figure 10: Number of industrial facilities reporting to the National Pollutant Inventory (1998-2003) (a)

(a) Numbers are reported annually at the beginning of each calendar year.

Hazardous substances and organisms

Objective

To protect the environment and human health from hazardous substances and organisms.

Activities
Chemicals management

To ensure that chemicals are managed safely to protect the environment and human health, the Department:

In the last year, the Department participated in several international meetings, including the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. Australia ratified both conventions on 20 May 2004. The Department cooperates in the development of these international agreements to restrict the use, production or release of hazardous chemicals, and for the sharing of information about them.

Under the Stockholm Convention, Australia has committed to reducing and, where feasible, eliminating releases of persistent organic pollutants. The Department is now developing a national implementation plan through the Environment Protection and Heritage Council.

As part of the National Dioxins Programme, the Department completed seven projects on the levels of dioxins in the environment, the population and agricultural commodities, and to determine emissions from bushfires, motor vehicles and other sources. The information and other data were used to assess environmental risks and complemented a Department of Health and Ageing human health risk study.

This work led to the publication of a series of 12 technical reports in May 2004.

Australia contributed to the development of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management - a United Nations Environment Programme initiative that identifies international priorities in chemical safety to the year 2020.

The Department reviewed the sources, pathways and management of mercury in Australia. This will assist in developing Australia's position on international measures to address mercury, which are currently being considered by the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council.

Together with state and territory governments, the Department shares responsibility for managing unwanted agricultural chemicals. Under an agreement with all jurisdictions, the agricultural industry has now established regular collections of unwanted farm chemicals under the ChemClear programme (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment). During 2003-04, trials took place in New South Wales and South Australia to test and refine the proposed collection system.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority regulates agricultural and veterinary chemicals. One test for registering a chemical product is whether the product is likely to harm animals, plants or the environment when used according to instructions. The authority seeks the Department's advice when applying this test. Where the Department advised that a product failed the test (eight out of 19 applications to register products with new active constituents; eight out of 43 applications to extend the use of existing products; and two out of 44 applications for trial or 'off-label' use - that is, a use not listed on the approved label), the authority did not authorise it. In most other cases, the Department identified likely adverse environmental impacts and recommended modifications to mitigate them and allow the application to pass the test.

The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme regulates industrial chemicals. The Department assesses the potential environmental impact of new industrial chemicals on behalf of the scheme (see Figure 11). The Department undertook environmental hazard assessments of short-chain chlorinated paraffins and formaldehyde as part of the scheme's review of priority existing chemicals.

Figure 11: Number of environmental risk assessments of agricultural, veterinary and industrial chemicals (1998-2004)

Figure 11: Number of environmental risk assessments of agricultural, veterinary and industrial chemicals (1998-2004)

Hazardous waste

The Department regulates the movement of hazardous wastes in and out of Australia through the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989. The Act implements Australia's international obligations, including those under the Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Under the Act, the Department operates a permit system to regulate imports and exports of hazardous wastes, which complements state and territory government regulation of waste management within Australia.

Australia contributed actively to international meetings on controlling hazardous waste. Departmental officers attended four meetings of the Basel Convention and the Convention to Ban the Importation into Forum Island Countries of Hazardous and Radioactive Wastes and to Control the Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within the South Pacific Region (known as the Waigani Convention).

The Basel Convention puts an onus on exporting countries to ensure that hazardous wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner. The Waigani Convention bans the imports of all hazardous and radioactive wastes into South Pacific Island countries.

A particular focus for the Department during 2003-04 was improving compliance with the Act. For more information, see the report on the operation of the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 in this annual report.

Gene technology assessment

The Gene Technology Regulator regulates genetically modified organisms under the Gene Technology Act 2000. This Act requires the regulator to seek advice from the Minister for the Environment and Heritage for each intentional release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. The Department supports the Minister in providing this advice.

In 2003-04, the regulator sought the Minister's advice on 23 occasions for 15 licence applications, and the regulator adequately addressed environmental concerns in each licence granted.

The Department also supported the Minister's involvement in the Australian Government Biotechnology Ministerial Council.

Product stewardship for oil

The improper use of used oil can pollute land, waterways, underground reservoirs and the marine environment. One litre of used oil can contaminate up to one million litres of water.

The Product Stewardship for Oil Programme was introduced in 2001 by the Australian Government to provide incentives to increase used oil recycling. The arrangements comprise a levy-benefit system, where a levy on new oil offsets benefit payments to used oil recyclers. Transitional assistance grants of $34.5 million from 2001 to 2007 are also helping to establish a sustainable oil recycling industry, including the installation of used oil collection points across Australia. A total of 547 oil collection facilities were installed and in operation as at 30 June 2004.

In May and June 2004, the Department conducted a six-week community awareness campaign, which led to over 600 public inquiries. For more information, see the report on the operation of the product stewardship arrangements for waste oil in this annual report.

Result

Australia continued to contribute to international efforts to restrict the use, production and emission of hazardous chemicals. Australia ratified the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent for International Trade in Hazardous Chemicals on 20 May 2004.

At the national level, the Department continued to advise on hazardous substances and organisms, including providing advice to regulators of agricultural, veterinary and industrial chemicals.

In May 2004, the Department released 12 technical reports describing the outcomes of studies on dioxins in the environment. This was the largest survey of dioxin levels ever undertaken in Australia. The studies showed that the dioxin levels in our food, bodies and environment are low compared with international standards. They also showed that the risks posed by dioxins to human health and the environment are low.

With the Department's support, the Environment Protection and Heritage Council launched the Internet-based National Chemical Information Gateway, which provides a simple and coordinated way to access information on chemicals at www.deh.gov.au/chemicals-gateway.

Report on performance information

Tables 23, 24 and 25 report performance results against the indicators in the 2003-04 portfolio budget statements.

Table 23: Sustainable industry (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Accuracy, timeliness and comprehensiveness of advice provided to the Minister on improving the environmental performance of Australian industry.' Timeframes were met and policy advice met the Minister's requirements.
'Statutory timeframes relating to the management of hazardous wastes are met.' All timeframes were met (18 permit applications were processed).
'Emissions data (collected by states and territories from industrial facilities and submitted to the Commonwealth) under the National Pollutant Inventory National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) is posted on the website by 31 January each year.' Industrial facility emission data was published on the web site on 30 January 2004. The number of facilities reporting on their 2002-03 emissions was 3396, about 400 more than the previous year.
'Percentage of projects under National Dioxins Programme meeting key milestones.' One hundred per cent (seven projects). The projects showed that dioxin levels in the environment are low, as are risks to the environment and to human health.
'Percentage of advices to Government and regulators on applications to release genetically modified organisms into the environment that met the statutory timeframes under the Gene Technology Act 2000.' Eighty-seven per cent of advices from the Minister to the Regulator met the timeframes. (The Regulator considered all advices from the Minister; 23 advices to the Minister were prepared by the Department.)
'Percentage of risk assessments for Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (previously National Registration Authority) and National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme that meet the statutory timeframe.' Seventy per cent of 106 risk assessments prepared for the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority met the timeframe (a 16 per cent improvement on last year). Sixty per cent of 203 risk assessments prepared for the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme met the timeframe (a seven per cent improvement on last year).
'Number of businesses covered by Industry/Government environmental agreements.' In total, there were 11 eco-efficiency agreements with 32 industry associations, representing over 377 000 Australian businesses.
'Percentage of total waste oil recycled nationally.' Over 80 per cent of potentially recoverable used oil was recycled (233 million litres, which is a 20 per cent increase on last year and more than 40 per cent increase since the programme commenced).
Table 24: Supervision and research on the environmental impact of uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Accuracy, timeliness and comprehensiveness of advice provided to the Minister on the environmental impact of uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region.' Timeframes were met and policy advice met the Minister's requirements.
'Extent to which environmental research on the effects of uranium mining provides the Supervising Scientist with the information required to undertake his role.' Research conducted by the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist provided the Supervising Scientist with the scientific and technical information needed for him to fulfil his role:
  • Ecotoxological assessments of magnesium sulphate, aluminium and uranium for local aquatic organisms were either completed or commenced.
  • Environmental monitoring programmes were implemented at Ranger and Jabiluka to assess potential impacts of the mine sites. Information from the monitoring programmes indicated that ecosystems downstream of mining activities were protected from the potential deleterious impacts of uranium mining.
  • Research on the baseline stream sediment movement in Swift Creek (Ngarradj) neared completion.
  • Work on the erosion and hydrology of the Nabarlek mine site was carried out to assess the status of rehabilitation of the mine.
  • A radon and meteorological measurement network has been set up and data were obtained from locations in the Ranger/Jabiluka region.
'Extent to which the Commonwealth Environmental Requirements are met.' The Supervising Scientist indicated to the Minister that the potable water contamination incident and contaminated vehicle incident at Ranger during 2003-04 were breaches of the Commonwealth Environmental Requirements.
'Extent to which routine minesite inspections and environmental audits are completed consistent with the requirements of the ISO14000 series of standards and are supported by an environmental monitoring programme.' Routine inspections of mine sites were carried out with representatives of the Northern Territory Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development and the Northern Land Council. The annual environmental audit and mid-term review were completed in accordance with the requirements of the ISO 14000 series of standards. The Supervising Scientist's environmental monitoring programme provided data that supported these audit processes.
'Extent to which local standards for water quality and radiation levels are met.' Local standards for air and water quality at the Ranger and Jabiluka sites were met during 2003-04. There were no recorded occasions when site-specific water quality limits were exceeded at either site as a result of mining operations. The potable water contamination incident at Ranger resulted in short-term adverse effects (skin irritations and gastrointestinal distress) for some workers but longer-term effects are not expected. The contaminated earth-moving equipment incident resulted in low level radiation exposure of three members of the public at approximately the public limit. Longer term effects are not expected.
'Number of reports including peer reviewed articles and presentations on standards, practices and procedures developed to protect the environment and people from the effects of uranium mining.' A total of 84 reports, including peer reviewed articles and presentations, were prepared in 2003-04. These reports included information relevant to protecting the environment and people from the effects of uranium mining. A full list of publications from 2003-04 is included in the Supervising Scientist's annual report at www.deh.gov.au/about/annual-report.
'Number of reports including peer reviewed articles and presentations on measures developed for the rehabilitation of the environment following uranium mining activities.' The 84 reports mentioned above included information relevant to the rehabilitation of the environment following uranium mining. A full list of publications from 2003-04 is included in the Supervising Scientist's annual report at www.deh.gov.au/about/annual-report.
Table 25: Commonwealth contribution to the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) Service Corporation> (administered appropriation)
Performance information Result
'The Commonwealth's financial obligation to the NEPC [National Environment Protection Council] Service Corporation is met.' The Department contributed $423 750 to the operational costs of the service corporation.
'Commonwealth's contribution to the operating costs of the NEPC [National Environment Protection Council] Service Corporation is paid on time.' All payments were made on time.
Table 26: Pricing information for Tables 23 to 25(a)
Appropriation Estimated price Revised price Actual expenses
Industry - Output 1.6 (departmental) $29.171 million $28.936 million $30.399 million
Commonwealth contribution to the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) Service Corporation (administered) $0.429 million $0.429 million $0.424 million

(a) See also the summary resource tables at the end of this 'Review of performance'.

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