4602.0.55.005 - Waste Account, Australia, Experimental Estimates, 2013 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/02/2013  First Issue
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What is hazardous waste?

Hazardous Waste is waste that poses substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment. It generally relates to materials that are known or tested to exhibit one or more of the following four hazardous traits:
  • ignitability.
  • reactivity.
  • corrosivity.
  • toxicity.

The international movement of hazardous waste is managed by the Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to reduce and regulate the movements of hazardous waste between nations. The Basel Convention was brought into force in 1992 and now has membership of over 170 countries, including Australia who has been a signatory since 1992.

Hazardous waste refers to the solids, liquids, or contained gases generated by industrial processes that pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, stored or disposed. Examples of common hazardous wastes include spent auto batteries, spent solvents, and sludges from industrial wastewater treatment units.

Over recent years the amount of hazardous waste has increased due to a number of factors including:
  • population growth and the associated increase in demand for goods and services;
  • growth in trade in chemical products and increased use of oils, pesticides, acids and alkalis;
  • an increase in the amount of hazardous components in household waste; and
  • improved health care which has led to more clinical and pharmaceutical waste.

The Basel Convention

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was established in 1992. The main objective of the convention is to protect, by strictly controlling, human health and the environment against the adverse effects which may result from the generation, transboundary movement and management of hazardous and other wastes.

Other objectives of the convention include reducing transboundary movements of wastes to a minimum, consistent with sound and efficient environmental management, and controlling any permitted transboundary movement under the terms of the convention. The convention also aims to minimize the amount of hazardous wastes generated and assist developing countries in managing the hazardous and other wastes they generate.

A waste falls under the scope of the Basel Convention if it is listed and exhibits one of the hazardous characteristics of being explosive, flammable, toxic or corrosive. It may also fall under the scope of the convention if the laws of the exporting or importing country or any of the transit countries define or consider it to be a hazardous waste.

Through the Basel Convention hazardous wastes can be exported only if the exporting country does not have the technical capacity and facilities to ensure disposal in an environmentally sound manner. Transboundary movement is prohibited if the country of export or import has reason to believe that the waste shall not be managed in the expected manner.

The convention is complemented by a protocol which provides for a comprehensive regime for liability as well as compensation for damage resulting from the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and other wastes and their disposal, including incidents occurring because of illegal traffic in those wastes. Those involved in the transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous waste are strictly liable for damage caused regardless of the presence of fault up to the financial limits established by the protocol. Fault-based liability is also regulated by the protocol.

In 1995 the Basel Ban Amendment was adopted, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste from a list of developed countries to developing countries. The Basel Ban applies to hazardous waste exports for any reason, including recycling.

Radioactive waste is covered under other international regulatory systems and is not covered in the Basel Convention.

For information on the international trade of hazardous waste please see the feature article Australia's International Trade in Waste.

Hazardous Waste Act 1989

In Australia, the Hazardous Waste Act 1989 was introduced to regulate the export and import of hazardous waste. The Act ensures that hazardous waste is disposed of safely both in Australia and overseas so both communities and the environment are protected from the harmful effects of the waste.

The Act was developed to enable Australia to comply with the Basel Convention and is administered by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC).

DSEWPaC is the official authority for Australia under the Basel Convention. They process import, export and transit permit applications under the Act, and ensure compliance and enforcement. DSEWPaC also prepares, implements and amends legislation relating to movements of hazardous waste to, from or through Australia.

National Environment Protection Measures

The Waste Account, Australia, Experimental Estimates (cat no. 4602.0.55.005) shows that in 2009-10 a total of 3,500 kilotonnes of hazardous waste was generated in Australia, which represented 6% of the total waste generated. This hazardous waste comprised quarantine waste, contaminated soil, industrial waste and asbestos.

The most hazardous category of waste is controlled waste which includes those wastes that exhibit toxicity and chemical or biological reactivity.

The transport of controlled wastes in Australia is covered by National Environment Protection Measures (NEPMs), which were introduced in 1998 to track the movement of controlled waste around Australia to assist waste producers, waste transporters and the operators of waste receival facilities.

Movement of Controlled Waste within Australia

Controlled waste transported domestically between states and territories amounted to 188,000 tonnes during 2009-10, declining to 179,000 tonnes for 2010-11. These wastes consist primarily of inorganic chemicals, oils, soil/sludge, acids, alkalis, and putrescible/organics.

The figures below shows the movement of controlled waste by each state and territory within Australia for 2009-10 and 2010-11. New South Wales was the biggest importer of controlled waste in both periods, despite the amount falling from 97,304 tonnes in 2009-10 to 63,921 tonnes in 2010-11. Victoria was the largest exporter of controlled waste in 2009-10 with 49,480 tonnes but was recently overtaken by NSW in 2010-11 with exports of 66,005 tonnes.

Figure 1 Movement of Controlled Waste in Australia, 2009-10 and 2010-11
Diagram: Figure 1 Movement of Controlled Waste in Australia, 2009–10 and 2010–11


The total for exports and imports do not align because of discrepancies in the movements of controlled waste due to consignment non-arrival, transport without authorisation, non-matching documentation and waste data.

Household Hazardous Waste

Household hazardous waste includes products that contain corrosive, toxic or reactive ingredients such as paints, cleaners, oils, batteries and pesticides. These products contain potentially hazardous ingredients and require proper disposal to protect human health and the environment. Hazardous waste items are disposed of in a number of different ways with the most common method being non-recycled garbage. Safer disposal methods include dropping off at a business or central point or taking the product to a specialised area at a waste transfer station.

The most common hazardous waste disposed by households is batteries, which grew from 57% in 2000 to 68% in 2009. The second most disposed hazardous waste item is medicines, drugs or ointments which fell from 38% in 2000 to 32% in 2009.

Awareness of Hazardous Waste Disposal Facilities, Australia

The ABS publication Environmental Issues: Waste Management and Transport Use, March 2009 (cat no. 4602.0.55.002) included information about domestic waste management. A range of household waste management issues were covered including the types of items recycled/reused, the ways households recycle, the frequency of recycling collection and the reasons for not recycling. Household waste management issues of hazardous material were also reported in the publication. Information was collected regarding the type of hazardous item disposed, the ways households disposed of hazardous waste and the awareness of, and reasons for not using hazardous waste disposal facilities.

Figure 2 shows that awareness of hazardous waste disposal services has increased across Australia from 32% in 2006 to 40% in 2009. The Northern Territory had the largest increase rising from 27% to 43% and Queensland also showed a marked increase rising from 32% to 46%. The ACT experienced a fall in awareness from 44% to 39%.

The survey reported that the most common reason for households not to engage in correct disposal of hazardous wastes was that they did not have sufficient material to warrant the use of the drop-off facilities, rather than the cost of disposal.

Figure 2,
Graph Image for Awareness of Hazardous Waste Disposal Facilities, by state and territory, 2006 and 2009

Source - Environmental Issues: Waste management and Transport Use, March 2009 (ABS cat. no. 4602.55.002).


1800 E Waste - The Basel Convention. http://www.ewaste.com.au/ewaste-articles/the-basel-convention-combating-the-illegal-trafficking-of-hazardous-waste/

Annual Report 2010-2011. National Environment Protection Council.

Australian National Greenhouse Accounts. National Inventory Report 2010 Volume 3. Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

Basel Convention - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basel_Convention

Basel Convention - http://www.basel.int/

Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, March 2006 (ABS Cat. No. 4602.0)

Environmental Issues: Waste Management and Transport Use, March 2009 (ABS Cat. No. 4602.0.55.002)

Europa - Summaries of EU Legislation - Environment - Waste Management. http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/environment/waste_management/l28043_en.htm

Hazardous Waste - Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities http://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/chemicals/hazardous-waste/index.html