Human Settlements Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Professor Peter W. Newton, CSIRO Building, Construction and Engineering, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06747 7

Waste, recycling and reuse (continued)

Solid, liquid and hazardous wastes (continued)

Transportation, storage and disposal of hazardous waste

Australia ratified the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal on 5 February 1992 and implements the Convention's requirements through the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 (Cwlth), with substantial amendments in 1996 to bring it further into line with the Basel Convention. The object of the Act is to regulate the export, import and transit of hazardous waste to ensure that such waste is managed in an environmentally sound manner, so that human beings and the environment, both within and outside Australia, are protected from the harmful effects of the waste.

Australia issues more export permits than import permits. Australia typically issues export permits for metalliferous wastes such as mineral processing residues (e.g. aluminium potlinings, tin ash, lead dross) and spent batteries (lead acid, nickel-cadmium). Typical import permits are for metalliferous wastes (zinc and aluminium ash). Each transaction, in either direction, involves an element of both purchase of a service (waste treatment) and sale of a good (the valuable recoverable part of the waste). Frequently the value of the good exceeds the price of the service by only a small margin, which explains the low net value of shipments. The Act is administered with the intention that the notification and consent (and other) requirements of the Convention are adhered to, but with minimum impact on the ability of treatment facilities to access raw materials and on waste generators to access efficient recovery facilities.

Australia has a very restrictive policy on exports of hazardous waste for final disposal, such as landfill and incineration. The amended Act prohibits such exports unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as a need to export the waste for research or testing. This prohibition goes beyond the requirements of the Basel Convention but implements obligations adopted by OECD member countries in 1991. It also reflects the government's view that, in general, wastes destined for final disposal should be disposed of within Australia.

The amended Act has had a significant effect on the behaviour of parts of Australian industry that have historically been involved in the trade in hazardous waste. Transboundary movements that were inconsistent with the international norms established by the Convention have stopped, but trade that is consistent with the objectives of the Convention continues under the Act.

The Australian Dangerous Goods Code (FORS 1992) details stringent guidelines for the transport of pollutants and dangerous goods. Different states and territories have set up protocols on the generation and management of controlled waste and for some time now the industry has operated under a continuously evolving regulatory environment. The National Environment Protection (Movement of Controlled Waste Between States and Territories) Measure (NEPM) regulates protocols for the identification, transport and reporting of controlled wastes.

Some well-developed regulatory instruments to monitor and manage movements of hazardous waste include the New South Wales National Manifest System established in 1995 and the TRANCERT database in Victoria; with the EPAs tracking movements of hazardous and regulated wastes in other states and territories. Trends in the management of solid prescribed industrial waste generated have not changed much from 1995 to 1998 as typified by data derived from the TRANCERT Database for Victoria. Figure 84 shows the generation of solid prescribed waste in Victoria from 1995 to 1998, divided into:

  • prescribed industrial waste (excluding contaminated soil disposed to specifically engineered landfill),
  • contaminated soil disposed to specifically engineered landfill, and
  • prescribed industrial waste managed by other routes, including treatment, reuse and disposal to landfills other than specifically engineered landfill.

Figure 84: Prescribed solid wastes in Victoria

 Prescribed solid wastes in Victoria

Source: EPA Victoria (1999).

Waste minimisation

Since a national waste reduction target of 50% by the year 2000 was adopted by ANZECC in 1992, a number of state-level waste minimisation initiatives have steadily gained momentum. The guiding principle for all current waste management strategies is to begin with waste avoidance in the first place, followed by minimisation, recycling, and finally disposal as a last option.

All states and territories have set ambitious waste minimisation goals in line with or exceeding national targets. In New South Wales, a 60% waste reduction by 2000 target from baseline 1990 levels was set. In the ACT, a zero waste target has been set for 2010. In all other states and territories, 50% waste reduction targets by 2000 have been set. The introduction of stringent waste reduction targets has become a primary driver for recent significant downward trends in waste disposal quantities (e.g. in the ACT; see Figure 85). Most of the gains in waste reduction have been attributed to increases in recycling rates. Yet in spite of increased recycling rates, absolute waste generation rates remain high. Therefore, most waste reduction targets would not be attainable by their stipulated deadlines. In Sydney, the level of waste reduction achieved by 2000 against the 1990 baseline level was close to 18%, well below the 60% target set by the New South Wales Government (Holden 2000). To meet waste reduction targets in WA, the required per capita disposal rate in metropolitan Perth is 0.8 tonnes/year by 2000. Between 1995 and 1997, the actual per capita waste disposal rate in Perth was 1.13 tonnes/year (DEP WA 1998).

Figure 85: Solid waste disposal rates (tonnes/person/year). [HS Indicator 10.2]

 Solid waste disposal rates (tonnes/person/year).

Note: Significant changes in values from one year to another may indicate changes in data coverage, e.g. between 1996 and 1998 in Victoria.

Sources: Unpublished data from EcoRecycle Victoria, EPA NSW, EPA SA, ACT Government, and DEP WA.