ACT State of the Environment 2007

Indicator: Hazardous waste

Summary

Benefits are starting to become evident from the appropriate movement and treatment of hazardous waste and, in some cases, the production of an environmentally beneficial by-product. During the reporting period, some 385,320 litres (346.6 tonnes) of contaminated transformer oil was treated and subsequently resold as a usable product.

The National Environment Protection (Movement of Controlled Waste between States and Territories) Measure for the ACT was fully implemented during the reporting period.

Neither of the facilities authorised to treat hazardous waste in the ACT attracted any breaches, orders or prosecutions during the reporting period.

The movement of controlled waste both into and out of the ACT increased but, due to Stericorp not treating waste at Mitchell for more than half the reporting period, the clinical and pharmaceutical waste moving from a variety of sources into the ACT for treatment was merely consolidated and transferred to Sydney for treatment, pending new arrangements. This accounted for some of the increased tonnage and movements.

What the results tell us about the ACT

Movement of controlled waste

Controls are imposed on the treatment of hazardous waste. Controls are also imposed on the interstate transport of identified hazardous wastes (that is, controlled wastes) that are being moved for appropriate treatment and disposal. Such transport requires authorisation under the National Environment Protection (Movement of Controlled Waste Between States and Territories) Measure (NEPM) see http://www.nepc.gov.au/nepms/nepms.html.

The National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) has established a reporting format and coordinates state reports on such movements. NEPC then reports annually on the implementation and effectiveness of that NEPM across all Australian jurisdictions.

The ACT components of the NEPC annual reports confirm that the NEPM was fully implemented during the reporting period (including also, for the last year of the previous reporting period – in total in each of the years from 2002–03 to 2006–07). See 'Data sources and references' for the Territory's reports to NEPC.

There was a large increase during 2002–03 in the movement of controlled waste both into and out of the ACT as the treatment operations of both Stericorp and Energy Services Invironmental gained momentum (see Table 1).

Table 1 also shows that very few types of waste were imported into, or exported from, the ACT during the reporting period. This is indicative of the limited types of treatment available in the ACT, and of the limited range of industrial and business activities that generate hazardous waste.

Table 1: Movement of controlled waste into and out of the ACT, 2002–03 to 2005–06
Type of waste: Imports (tonnes) 2002–03 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06
Plating and heat treatment 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Acids 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Alkalis 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Inorganic chemicals 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Reactive chemicals 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Paints, resin, inks, organic sludges 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Organic solvents 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Pesticides 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Oils 223.95 439.50 0.00 0.00
Putrescible/organic waste 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Industrial washwater 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Organic chemicals 107.35 236.69 588.02 712.55
Soil/sludge 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Clinical and pharmaceutical 1,368.76 865.50 518.89 265.16
Miscellaneous 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Total imports 1,700.06 1,541.69 1,106.91 977.71
Type of waste: Exports (tonnes) 2002–03 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06
Plating and heat treatment 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.06
Acids 2.72 3.51 61.44 10.55
Alkalis 0.00 16.50 25.00 59.07
Inorganic chemicals 5.01 15.65 19.32 105.60
Reactive chemicals 0.20 0.02 0.03 0.33
Paints, resin, inks, organic sludges 0.03 17.80 30.42 37.86
Organic solvents 23.27 74.55 49.36 68.71
Pesticides 2.47 4.27 0.69 0.54
Oils 1,074.31 2,108.46 1,215.64 372.05
Putrescible/organic waste 25.75 493.90 1,510.54 2,100.36
Industrial washwater 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Organic chemicals 0.00 0.60 11.33 0.98
Soil/sludge 17.83 969.07 39.10 123.66
Clinical and pharmaceutical 105.47 54.83 145.55 881.04
Miscellaneous 28.87 19.07 34.86 46.82
Total exports 1,285.93 3,778.23 3,143.28 3,807.63
Net movement 414.07 –2236.54 –2036.37 –2829.92

Notes: Data from the NEPC website are one year out of date owing to collection and reporting regimes
Source: National Environment Protection Council Annual Reports 2002–03 to 2005–06

Putrescible waste (essentially grease trap waste) exports have increased since the special disposal site (part of the West Belconnen landfill) was closed in January 2005. The ACT Government's Knowledge Fund supported a vermiculture (worm farming) trial to treat putrescible waste and it was considered successful enough to be nominated for a No Waste Award in 2006–07. The worm castings can be marketed. If trials continue to be successful there is a sizeable regional market for this type of treatment and imports of putrescible waste would be expected to take over from exports, and another environmentally beneficial by-product made available.

The latent danger to the environment of increasing transport of this type of controlled waste is offset by improved treatment and, in some cases, an environmental spin-off.

Most controlled waste imported into the ACT comes from regional New South Wales.

A minor amendment was made to the NEPM during the reporting period to exempt or exclude certain items from NEPM control (see http://www.nepc.gov.au/nepms/waste/waste_nepm.6.98.html).

Treatment of controlled waste

Stericorp Ltd and Energy Services Invironmental are authorised under the Environment Protection Act 1997 to treat various types of controlled waste.

Stericorp Ltd is authorised under the Act to undertake 'commercial incineration primarily conducted for the destruction, by means of thermal oxidation, of wastes; and the disinfection of clinical waste' (Environmental Authorisation number 008). Since the last state of the environment report both the incinerator and the Electro Thermal Deactivation plant have ceased to operate.

The incinerator formerly operated by Stericorp ceased operation on 25 August 2004 after a fire in the air pollution control equipment.

The Electro Thermal Deactivation plant first commenced operation in mid September 2002. It was shut down on 1 July 2005 as Stericorp Limited and the supplier of the technology – Stericycle Inc. – had entered into arbitration due to an ongoing dispute over performance of the plant. Stericorp succeeded in its action against Stericycle and was awarded net damages of $6.937 million.

After acting only as a transfer station during the period of arbitration, Stericorp has now installed a reliable autoclave system that became operational in early September 2006.

Only clinical waste, other than that listed below, can be treated in the autoclave facility.

The wastes that are unacceptable for treatment in the autoclave and are sent to Stericorp's Silverwater (NSW) incinerator are:

  • pathological waste
  • anatomical waste
  • trace chemotherapeutic waste
  • cytotoxic waste
  • isolation ward waste
  • laboratory animals and associated animal wastes
  • waste containing hydrocarbons detected by the infeed hydrocarbon detector
  • waste emitting radiation over three times the normal background level.

Autoclaved waste is classified as 'inert waste' under the Territory's Environmental Standards: Assessment and Classification of Liquid and Non-liquid Wastes June 2000 and is disposed of at the Mugga Lane landfill. Since commissioning, some 957 tonnes (297 in 2006 and 660 in 2007) of autoclaved waste has been sent to the Mugga Lane landfill.

Energy Services Invironmental's Mitchell facility started treating polychlorinated biphenyl contaminated transformer oil (both scheduled and non-scheduled) on 12 May 2003 (that is, towards the end of the previous reporting period). Energy Services Invironmental is authorised under the Environment Protection Act 1997 to 'receive and treat polychlorinated biphenyl waste to render it less or non-hazardous using Fluidex PCBD500 dechlorination technology' (Environmental Authorisation Number 0400).

Energy Services Invironmental's treatment produces a recycled product – dechlorinated oil – that is reused in transformers. During the reporting period, some 385,320 litres (346.6 tonnes) of treated oil was put into the market, thus reducing environmental and financial costs (see Table 2). Caustic waste is also produced in the process, with 170.52 tonnes being disposed of during the reporting period.

Table 2: Litres/tonnes of oil dechlorinated and recycled by Energy Services Invironmental, 2003–04 to 2006–07
Year Litres/tonnes recycled
2003–04 246,025/230.0
2004–05 410,796/369.7
2005–06 402,205/362.0
2006–07 377,570/339.8

Source: Data supplied by Environment Protection and Heritage, TAMS, 2007

During the reporting period there were no breaches, orders or prosecutions of any facilities licensed to receive controlled wastes.

Household chemical waste

Various controlled wastes are also collected from households in the ACT. Data show fluctuations in the quantity of waste collected from 2004–05 to 2006–07 (see Table 3).

Table 3: Controlled waste from household chemical pick–up, 2004–05 to 2006–07
Waste type Quantity (kg)
2004–05 2005–06 2006–07
Acids/bases 66.9 81.35 61.8
Banned chemicals 20.1 35.54 24.0
Lab chemicals 14.0 0.7 56.5
Solvents 20.0 9.0
Pesticides/herbicides 136.3 211.6 261.95
Photo chemicals 76.7 71.4 36.0
Other/unknown 315.85 565.33 118.0
Total 649.85 965.92 567.25

Note: Figures were not available for 2003–04
Source: Data supplied by Environment Protection and Heritage, TAMS, 2007

There has been an unintended and unfortunate hazardous waste consequence of drought conditions and water restrictions over the past few years in the form of a staggering increase in empty containers for the treatment of motor vehicles (see 'Data sources and references').

Officers of the Environment Protection Authority are also liaising with the Australian and state and territory governments about appropriate disposal of long-life bulbs, as more and more energy-conscious residents respond to the Australian Government's promotion and switch from incandescent to CPL fittings, which contain mercury.

Data sources and references

Data for Table 1 were produced from NEPC Annual Reports 2002–03 to 2005–06.

Stericorp Ltd, Energy Services Invironmental and Environment Protection and Heritage, TAMS supplied additional data.

David Power, Assistant Manager, Environment Protection and Des Clayton, Environment Protection Officer, provided observations on the increase in empty car treatment containers, November 2007.

Jurisdictional Reports on Implementation and Effectiveness of NEPMs 2002-2003, at <http://www.nepc.gov.au/pdf/annrep_02_03/181_182_App_6_MCW_ACT.pdf>

Jurisdictional Reports on Implementation and Effectiveness of NEPMs 2003-2004 at <http://www.nepc.gov.au/pdf/annrep_03_04/200_201_MCW_8_ACT.pdf>

Jurisdictional Reports on Implementation and Effectiveness of NEPMs 2004-2005 at <http://www.nepc.gov.au/pdf/annrep_04_05/199_200_MoCW_8_ACT.pdf>

Jurisdictional Reports on Implementation and Effectiveness of NEPMs 2005-2006 at <http://www.nepc.gov.au/pdf/annrep_05_06/AR_Jur_MCW_ACT_05-06.pdf>

NEPC Annual Report 2002–03, Implementation and effectiveness of NEPMs, reports by NEPC members, at <http://www.nepc.gov.au/nepc/annual_report03.html>

NEPC Annual Report 2003–04, Implementation and effectiveness of NEPMs, reports by NEPC members, at <http://www.nepc.gov.au/nepc/annual_report04.html>

NEPC Annual Report 2004–05, Implementation and effectiveness of NEPMs, reports by NEPC members, at <http://www.nepc.gov.au/nepc/annual_report05.html>

NEPC Annual Report 2005–06, Implementation and effectiveness of NEPMs, reports by NEPC members, at <http://www.nepc.gov.au/nepc/annual_report06.html>

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