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Hazardous Waste Technical Group - 60th meeting

Friday 13 June 2003
Uluru Room, Level 4, John Gorton Building
King Edward Terrace, PARKES ACT 2600

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Professor Paul Greenfield


Dr Peter Di Marco
Dr Peter Scaife
Dr Robyn Eckersley
Dr Neill Stacey
Mr John Hogan
Dr Jenny Stauber
Dr Peter Nadebaum


Dr Peter Brotherton

In attendance

Mr Brett Gray
Ms Rita Jay


Mr Robert Angel
Dr Geoff Thompson
Mr Andrew Inglis


Ms Diane Kovacs
Mr Stephen Moore

Agenda Item 1. Draft Minutes of the 59th meeting

1. The meeting adopted the draft Minutes of the 59th meeting with two minor amendments.

Agenda Item 2. Matters arising

2. Paul Brown had resigned from the Group, citing a large number of new commitments that would prevent him from continuing to contribute consistently to the work of the Group. He had always been grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Group, whose decisions and guidance had helped to ensure that the worst excesses of the waste trade were now curbed. Members expressed their appreciation for Paul's very significant contribution to the work of the Group, and asked the Secretariat to draft a letter of thanks. Paul had indicated that he would assist in nominating a successor and other members were also invited to do so. Paul's expertise or experience was in matters relevant to the social or economic aspects of the management of hazardous waste.

Agenda Item 3. Progress report on operation of the Hazardous Waste Act

(a) Permit report for previous twelve months

3. The meeting noted the agenda paper.

Agenda Item 4. Technical issues arising from applications and inquiries

(a) Possible import of POPs wastes

4. Peter Brotherton advised that Marian Lloyd-Smith was re-working the inventories of POPs wastes in the Pacific Islands, and had found that there was much more than previously suspected.

(b) Proposed export of waste oil to China

5. The meeting noted the agenda paper.

(c) Waste/non-waste status of copper/lead sulphide feed

6. The Group agreed that the copper/lead sulphide feed was not a waste. The secretariat would prepare a letter to that effect.

(d) Waste/non-waste status of Dore concentrate

7. The secretariat thought that this material was a waste because it was collected in a scrubber and a wet electrostatic precipitator. However, members pointed out that these items of equipment were not necessarily being used as pollution control devices in the Dore process. They asked the Secretariat to obtain more information and to draft a letter summarising the conclusions.

(e) Objection to granting of Special Export Permit

(f) Response to ARA's objection

(g) Exide's suggested alterations to the flow chart

(h) ARA's suggested alterations to the flow chart

(i) Letter dated 2 June 2003 from HydroMet Corporation Limited

(j) Survey on processing and collection of ULABs: Submission by Dove Trading Company trading as Metal Man Recyclers

(k) Analysis of trade in Used Lead-Acid Batteries (ULABs) Between Australia and New Zealand

8. Items 4(e)-4(k) were considered together.

9. Exide had suggested some amendments to the flow chart depicting the indicative trade in ULABs within Australasia, and these related mainly to the available arisings of ULABs in Australia. Exide considered these to be approximately 76,000 tonnes per annum, which is significantly higher than the 69,000 tonnes per annum estimated by EA (in general agreement with the AAT in March 2003 and with ARA who indicate 65,000-69,000 tpa).

10. ARA, on the other hand, had recently amended their own estimates of both ULAB treatment rates and their own combined (Sydney and Melbourne) smelter capacity. As opposed to the data provided at the AAT and in response to the EA survey which indicated processing of 54,200 tonnes of ULABs and a smelter capacity of around 64,000 tpa, ARA now claimed that in 2002-2003 they would process around 59,800 tonnes of ULABs, and that their combined capacity was now about 73,000 tonnes per annum. ARA also claimed that the collection rate for ULABs within Australia was extraordinarily high, with only 302 tonnes of ULABs remained uncollected each year, corresponding to a 99.5% collection rate.

11. The Secretariat stated that it was very hard to develop a realistic picture of the Australasian trade in ULABs and recycling rates when the information supplied by the major players continued to change. However, EA estimated that the arisings of ULABs were around 68,700 tonnes per annum in Australia and 13,000 in NZ and, based on the 2001-2002 data provided by both Exide and ARA, the recycling rate was estimated at approximately 90%. The collection rate in Australia appeared to be slightly better than that for NZ.

12. The Secretariat also noted that at all three smelters, 250-300 kg of slag were generated for each tonne of ULABs treated, and this slag contained around 5% metallic lead, together with some uncombusted coke. At present the slag was placed into landfill, but both ARA and Exide were investigating ways to minimise slag production, and to treat the slag for recovery of lead and coke. 13. The Group then discussed the issues and the strategy to be adopted in hearing the ARA and Exide presentations. Members noted that the Government of Victoria was expected to express the view that the permit should be refused on the grounds that the waste could be disposed of in Victoria. The New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development had advised that in the event that the permit was refused and there was a shortfall in feed for the Exide smelter, it would not be their policy to provide a subsidy. The Group began to discuss the overall viability of the Exide smelter but expressed concern that it was not the Group's business to debate the economic performance of overseas operations. However, members also noted that, since the Minister had directed EA to undertake the analysis of ULAB trade, such a discussion was not inappropriate.

14. The situation could be summarised as: (a) refusing the permit could force closure of the NZ smelter leaving 13-14,000 tpa of ULABs which would have to be exported to Australia or elsewhere, or: (b) granting the permit could force closure of ARA's Melbourne smelter leaving approximately 33,000 tpa without recycling capacity in Australia.

15. ARA, represented by Matt Howell and Steve Ainsworth, then joined the meeting and presented their case for refusing Exide's application. Members asked why Simsmetal (who own half of ARA) sold ULABs to Exide. Matt Howell replied that failure to sell to the highest bidder would be in breach of agreements made with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) when the ARA joint venture between Simsmetal and Pasminco had been formed.

16. The Group asked why the new data on ULAB throughput and smelter capacity was so different from that provided in the survey. ARA responded that the new data on capacity was obtained by annualising lead alloy production for May 2003 at Sydney. A lead content of 57% was assumed for ULABs, and ARA considered that the collection rate for ULABs in Australia was very high, with only 302 tonnes of ULABs remaining uncollected from Australian arisings estimated at 69,000 tonnes. They produced a report from a meeting of the Australian Battery Association (which includes Exide and Century as members) in July 2001 to support their case.

17. The Secretariat agreed that their estimate of annual ULAB arisings of 69,000 tpa was close to that estimated by ARA, and asked why ARA had processed around 54,200 tonnes of ULABs in 2002 and 2001, but anticipated processing around 59,780 tonnes in 2002-2003. ARA replied that this was chiefly due to the previous winter being colder than usual, and causing a larger number of battery failures than usual. These had been collected and were available for processing by ARA.

18. The Secretariat remarked that the prices paid to collectors delivering to local scrap metal dealers had dropped from around $1.0-$1.50 per ULAB 3 years ago to around $0.25, and that most scrap dealers were now reluctant to accept ULABs. ARA replied that they were now paying around $115 per tonne for ULABs at the smelter gate as opposed to around $100 per tonne in November 2000.

19. Members asked why the Melbourne plant was making a loss when the collection rate was so high and we had a "bumper crop" of ULABs. ARA replied that they were "choke feeding" the Sydney facility and this had left the Melbourne plant with insufficient feed to run continuously. Due to frequent cooling of the smelter the refractory lining had failed, necessitating expensive refurbishment. Due primarily to the strengthening of the A$ against the US$, the price of lead had also fallen from about A$1,000 per tonne to A$695.

20. ARA was asked whether the losses at Melbourne were artificial, and could be alleviated if the load was taken off Sydney. They replied that transport costs would annul any benefits.

21. In response to another question, ARA said that they did not receive ULABs during periods of shut down because of OH&S considerations. It was not wise to store large volumes of hazardous ULABs at the smelter during idle periods because external contractors were working on the site and the risk of accidents was increased. ULABs should be stored in a secure, properly bunded facility.

22. ARA stated that the process of concentrating ULAB processing at Sydney had begun in 2002, and that while productivity and efficiency gains had been shared by both facilities, they were now concentrating on optimising the performance of the Sydney plant. ARA added that the combined capacity of both smelters was 73,000 tonnes of ULABs per annum, and that this was continually increasing.

23. Members asked why the capacity of the plants had increased so dramatically from around 63,000 tonnes per annum, as stated to the AAT in February 2003, to 73,000 tonnes in June 2003. ARA replied that this was due to a reduction in smelt time produced by the introduction of the oxyfuel burner system installed in 1999, and that "fine tuning" of the burners had now been achieved.

24. Members noted that if ARA were able to pick up the batteries presently being exported to NZ, then all Australian arisings would still be less than ARA smelter capacity, and the facilities would still suffer from a shortfall in feed. ARA responded that this could be made up from some of the 12,000 tonnes arising in NZ. They added that if Melbourne smelter was forced to close, then there would be no recycling capacity for around 30,000 tonnes of Australian ULABS arisings. To replace the facility would cost in the order of $35,000,000.

25. When asked about possible new treatment proposals such as those put forward by Hydromet and GBR, ARA replied that they had been talking to Hydromet over the past few years. However, at present the proposal was untenable due to pricing arrangements, and that in any case ARA would prefer to enter into a joint venture to exploit the carbonate conversion technology. GBR had only been registered since 5 June 2002, and the company appeared to consist solely of the four directors.

26. The ARA representatives left the meeting and Exide, represented by Allan Moore, Grant Bolitho, Brian Smith and David Markey, joined the meeting and presented their case on why an export permit should be granted. They began by outlining the history of the current situation, and noted that court appearances, permit applications and liabilities had so far cost Exide around $2M. Exide pointed out that the company was primarily a battery manufacturer, and were involved in ULAB recycling because of the advantages in vertical integration. Also, having their own source of alloy lead meant that Pasminco and Sims did not have a monopoly on the supply of refined alloy lead in Australasia. Although MIM were primary producers of lead, this was not fully refined and was unsuitable for use in batteries. Closure of the Exide smelter in NZ would change the whole dynamics of the market in refined lead.

27. Members asked whether it was correct to say that Exide had a monopoly in the collection and recycling of ULABs in New Zealand, and what price Exide was paying for ULABs in there. Exide replied that while they endeavoured to collect all New Zealand arisings, some were exported, mainly to the Philippines and other Asian countries. Exide paid around NZ$ 220 per tonne of ULABs.

28. Exide pointed out that while their present permit allowed for the export of about 20% of Australian arisings, the application by Sims to import 9,000 tonnes from New Zealand would account for 70% of New Zealand arisings.

29. In arguing that ARA did not make sufficient effort to collect within Australia, Exide alluded to rumours in the market place about illegal exports of ULABs, and of alleged illegal processing of ULABs to manufacture boat ballast in Queanbeyan.

30. Exide stated that the combined New Zealand and ARA smelter capacity of around 88,000 tpa of ULABs and other lead scrap was very close to the Australasian arisings of ULABs and other lead scrap, which were estimated at 75,000 tonne in Australia and 13,000 tonnes in New Zealand.

31. When asked why Exide needed a permit for 15,000 tonnes of ULABs each year when they had never exported this amount, Exide replied that they had never been able to access enough ULABs to export up to the maximum permitted.

32. When asked what Exide paid for ULABs in Australia, they replied that it was about A$130 per tonne, but more in some rural areas. They also added that while Simsmetal was actively collecting ULABs within New Zealand, they had not approached Exide as a potential buyer.

33. When asked to present evidence that the NZ smelter would close if the export permit were refused, Exide replied that loss of some 40% of their feed would have significant impact on the economics of operation. They added that closure of their NZ smelter would impact significantly on the price paid to collectors of ULABs, and on the price paid by battery manufactures for alloy lead.

34. In response to other questions, Exide reiterated that ARA did not have the capacity to treat all Australasian lead scrap arisings and had an inefficient collection system. Exide's smelter employed 37 workers and was not much less efficient than the ARA facilities. There was a well-established collection system in New Zealand that would collapse if the Exide smelter was forced to close, and such a closure would result in an increase in transboundary movements of ULABs. Exide would probably cease making batteries in New Zealand if the smelter closed, and would not put a number on the minimum tonnages of ULABs, exported from Australia, that would keep the Wellington smelter viable.

35. The representatives of ARA then re-joined the meeting for a joint session.

36. Members asked ARA to explain to the joint session why the data on smelter capacity and ULAB arisings presented at the AAT hearing was significantly different from the data now indicated by ARA. ARA replied that the capacity figures presented to the AAT were based on historical throughputs, and did not truly reflect the capacity of the smelters. Also, they had been able to source an additional 5,000-6,000 tonnes of ULABs in 2002-2003 compared with previous years. ARA reiterated that the production data for the Sydney smelter over a 30-day period in May 2003 indicated that each ARA smelter had the capacity to process around 36,500 tonnes of ULABs each year, giving a combined capacity of 73,000 tonnes.

37. Exide asked ARA why Melbourne had a shortfall in ULAB feed when ARA refused to accept ULABs at Sydney during shutdowns of that smelter. ARA replied that Melbourne required an additional 5,000-6,000 tonnes but only about 1,000 tonnes could have been provided during a Sydney shutdown. They also denied that they had refused to accept ULABs.

38. Exide then asked why ARA had been able to source a significant increase in ULAB arisings over 2002-2003 compared with previous years. ARA replied that this was due to the very efficient recycling regime (ie. almost 100% collection of ULAB arisings within Australia), and mentioned the report of the Australian Battery Association meeting of July 2001 that referred to high collection rates. Exide questioned the Battery Association figures.

39. When asked why Simsmetal sold ULABs to Exide when the ARA smelters were short of feed, ARA replied that not to sell to the highest bidder would breach the rules of competition set by the ACCC.

40. When asked whether offering a better price for ULABs could increase the feedstock available to them, ARA replied that the ULAB market was not a level playing field, and that Exide had a competitive advantage because of contracts with auto clubs. These arrangements enable Exide to source their ULABs from large metropolitan centres, while ARA had to pay an extra $55 per tonne to acquire feed from rural areas. Exide replied that the contracts with auto clubs were expensive, and Exide was also very active in collecting ULABs from country areas, paying premiums to cover freight costs.

41. When asked what level of ULAB export from Australia would allow all smelters to remain viable, ARA replied that they would be happy with exports of 4,000 tonnes to NZ, which was about half of what Exide has exported over the past few years. Exide would not put a figure on an acceptable level of exports.

42. The meeting then addressed the possibility of smelter closure, and the ramifications of this on the recycling of ULABs within the region. ARA replied that while the Sydney operation was working profitably, losses caused by insufficient feed for Melbourne were a problem. The Melbourne smelter required additional feed of around 5,000 tonnes of ULABs each year to remain viable. Closure of the Melbourne plant would reduce the region's capacity to recycle ULABs by around 36,500 tonnes and about 30,000 tonnes of Australian arisings would have to be exported for recycling. On the other hand, closure of the Wellington smelter would leave 12,000-13,000 tpa, which could not be recycled in New Zealand, but could be handled by the ARA smelters and Pasminco's Port Pirie smelter.

43. The representatives of ARA and Exide left the meeting and the Group discussed how to proceed with the issue. Members concluded that the evidence and information from both companies was conflicting and ARA appeared to be particularly uncomfortable about Exide's arrangements with the auto clubs. Closure of either smelter would have a negative effect on overall collection and recycling of ULABs within the region. Closure of the Melbourne smelter appeared to be less likely than closure of the Wellington smelter but would be a significantly worse outcome. Based on the production evidence over a 30-day period in May June 2003 at the Sydney smelter, it appeared that the combined ARA capacity was sufficient to treat most of the ULAB arisings in the region. It was an option for Exide to vary their application from 15,000 tonnes of ULABs to a lesser amount.

44. Given their current understanding of the overall situation, and pending further information or changes in the situation, Technical Group was of the view that the export application should be refused.

45. Members asked whether the Secretariat could obtain additional information on the export of small quantities of ULABs from New Zealand to Asian countries, and on the extent to which Simsmetal was collecting ULABs in New Zealand.

Agenda Item 5. Reports of international meetings

Agenda Item 6. Work Program of the Technical Group

Agenda Item 7. Criteria for separating hazardous from non-hazardous wastes

Agenda Item 8. Criteria for separating wastes from non-wastes

Agenda Item 9. Defining environmentally sound management

Agenda Item 10. Regional Centres

Agenda Item 11. Avoidance, minimisation and treatment of hazardous wastes

46. There was no discussion of these items.

Agenda Item 12. Other business

47. Members expressed their appreciation for the excellent level of support and service that had been provided by Anne Morris, and asked that their thanks be recorded in the Minutes.

Agenda Item 13. Dates of next meetings

(a) Friday 11 July 2003, Canberra

(b) Friday 15 August 2003, Sydney

(c) Friday 19 September 2003