Rubbish bins

Hazardous Waste

What Is Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous wastes, also called controlled wastes, are very closely linked to our industrialized lifestyle, and have been an unavoidable by-product of development. These wastes are defined by regulation or policy as having physical, chemical or other properties that make them an environmental or health hazard (Waste 2020, 2001). Examples of these wastes include clinical waste, septic tank and grease trap waste, contaminated soil, solvents, PCBs, industrial liquid wastes, asbestos. Controlled wastes are regulated in Western Australia by the Environmental Protection (Controlled Wastes) Regulations 2001, which are based on the National Environmental Protection Measure (NEPM) on Movement of Controlled Wastes between States and Territories (NEPC, 1998). The danger posed by toxic wastes is generally poorly understood and the variety of scientific opinion on the subject makes the implementation of significant and effective management policies for toxic waste difficult.

Waste Volumes And Contribution

The volumes of toxic and hazardous wastes and their contribution to the waste stream are difficult to ascertain for many of the components of this waste stream. This waste stream is a relatively small contributor in terms of the total volume of waste, but due to the threat to the health of humans and the environment posed by hazardous waste it can be the most destructive of all waste. Insufficient data currently exists on the nature and quantity of controlled waste produced in WA to allow an effective management plan to be developed (Waste 2020, 2001). The regulations will address this issue.

Controlled wastes - estimated annual quantities generated in Western Australia (Waste 2020, 2001)

Waste Stream Estimated Annual Quantities

Waste Stream

Estimated Annual Quantities

Clinical and related waste

10,000 to 20,000 tonnes

Septic tank and grease trap waste

50 ML

Non-sewerable industrial liquid wastes
(acids, alkalis, oily water)

20 ML

Low level radioactive wastes

5 tonnes

Arsenic wastes

700 tonnes

Non-halogenated solvents

1000 tonnes

Household Hazardous Waste

A typical Australian household produces many types of hazardous waste, making Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) an important waste stream in its own right. Approximately 15,000 tonnes of HHW is generated in the Perth metropolitan area annually. While this figure is far less than the quantities generated by certain industries, it is also much more dispersed and is more likely to be inappropriately stored or disposed of. There is currently no comprehensive management strategy for the disposal or recovery of HHW in Western Australia.

Recycling Or Safe Disposal

Disposal of hazardous waste usually requires a level of treatment that is often costly to achieve, this includes incineration or storage to await a time when safe disposal technologies are available. Recycling of hazardous waste requires the technology for safe handling and processing to ensure that keeping these sorts of materials out of landfill or storage causes no health problems. WA is one of the few States in Australia that has an operational intractable waste disposal facility.

Asbestos and asbestos products: This material is an extreme health hazard and is no longer used. Asbestos is immobilized through burial at landfill, as there is no economically feasible treatment or recycling method for asbestos available at present. Environmental Protection (Controlled Waste) Regulations 2004.

Clinical and medical waste: These wastes must be destroyed to prevent risk of infection from pathogens. Currently Stephenson & Ward is the only local incinerator licensed to destroy medical waste in Perth.

Radioactive waste arises from clinical practice. This waste can only be disposed of to IWDF.

Contaminated soils: It will take up to 20 years to manage the backlog of contaminated sites in Perth and unless the sites are on high value real estate this may involve disposal to landfill. It is extremely important that no new contaminated sites are created.

Disposal Capacity

Among the most important tasks for governments and the private sector is to zone, finance and construct adequate hazardous waste treatment facilities. While resolution of the issue remains a long way off, the State Government continues to explore options for treatement facilities through a non-governmental body called the Core Consultative Committee or 3C.

Waste Minimization Strategies

The focus of effots to manage hazardous waste is gradually beginning to shift away from containing and destroying the wastes produced towards avoiding the production of the wastes in first place. Since all of the options for treating hazardous wastes present significant drawbacks, waste minimization or avoidance is an attractive alternative. Actually achieving waste minimisation will require a combination of strategies including:

  • Research into cleaner production techniques;
  • Product substitution;
  • New marketing strategies like leasing arrangements;
  • Extended producer responsibility;
  • Appropriate use of regulations; and
  • Public education to change consumption and purchasing habits.

References

  1. The Hazardous Waste Section, Environment Australia
  2. Towards Zero Waste: Actions for the Controlled Waste Sector, 2001, Waste 2020 Task Force.
  3. Environmental Protection (Controlled Waste) Regulations, 2001
  4. National Environmental Protection Measure (NEPM) on Movement of Controlled Wastes between States and Territories, 1998, National Environment Protection Council
  5. Radioactive Waste Management in Australia, Dept of Industry, Science and Resources
  6. The following Guidelines are forthcoming from the DEP:
    • Outline of the Controlled Waste Regulations
    • Outline of the Liquid Waste Regulations
    • Understanding the new Regulations for Solvent Waste
    • Understanding the new Regulations for Clinical Waste
    • Controlled Waste Management Plans
    • Liquid Waste Management Programmes
    • WasteTrack - Grease Traps
    • WasteTrack - Oil Interceptors
    • List of Controlled Wastes

Other Links

What is Household Hazardous Waste? - 888CleanLA: Los Angeles County Department of Public Works Environmental Resources

Household hazardous waste: Dangers of improper disposal. - 888CleanLA: Los Angeles County Department of Public Works Environmental Resources

Household hazardous waste: Safe use, storage, and disposal practices - 888CleanLA: Los Angeles County Department of Public Works Environmental Resources

Household hazardous waste: What are alternative products? - 888CleanLA: Los Angeles County Department of Public Works Environmental Resources

Household hazardous waste: How to reduce household hazardous waste - 888CleanLA: Los Angeles County Department of Public Works Environmental Resources

The University of Melbourne Environment, Health and Safety Manual - Waste Disposal