Hazardous waste must be managed appropriately. If not, it has the potential to cause great harm to human health and the environment. Hazardous waste can:
- contaminate produce, soils, waterways and groundwater
- generate gases, explosions, fire, noise, odour and dust
- disrupt ecosystems and human health
In the 1970s, environmental laws to regulate hazardous waste were created in Australia. Similar laws were also made by other nations, such as the United Kingdom and Canada.
However, by the 1980s an international problem had emerged. Toxic waste was being exported to nations that lacked these environmental protections. Typically, this hazardous waste was not disposed of responsibly. Nations in Africa, other parts of the developing world and parts of Eastern Europe were the most affected.
To fix this problem the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (the Basel Convention) was developed. Members of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) met at a conference in Basel, Switzerland in 1989 to finalise the Basel Convention. As a member of the UNEP, Australia helped develop this treaty.
After the treaty was developed, Australia passed the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 (‘the Act’). The Act helps us to:
- Make sure hazardous waste exports are subject to proper management practices overseas.
- Check that imports of hazardous waste are responsibly processed here in Australia.
- Incentivise waste generators to recover valuable resources from hazardous waste.
We check the method for packaging and transport, through to recycling or final disposal. This helps to minimise risk to human health and the environment from the import or export of hazardous waste.
Improper disposal of hazardous waste continues to be a challenge worldwide. As a member state we are committed to continuous development of the Basel Convention. We collaborate with other nations to progress treaty amendments and produce technical guidance on how hazardous wastes should be managed.
Improving Australia's data on hazardous waste
The Department commissioned national consultation with industry, governments, researchers and non-government organisations on improvements to national data and reporting on waste. This is the 4th edition of the Australian hazardous waste data and reporting standard and supersedes previously published versions of the standard.
Hazardous Waste in Australia 2021
Amounts of hazardous waste generated in Australia continue to increase each year, faster than other waste, and faster than the rate of population growth. Hazardous waste generation has grown since 2006-07, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 6.3% per year since 2014-15, when the first edition of this report series was published. Asbestos and contaminated soils are major contributors to this growth.
Hazardous waste tracking and data system
The Department commissioned Oakton to conduct work on options for a national electronic tracking and data system for inter- and intra-state movements of hazardous and controlled waste.
Hazardous Waste in Australia
Amounts of Hazardous waste arising in Australia continue to increase each year, faster than other waste, and faster than the rate of population growth. Average annual growth in arisings between 2010-2011 and 2014 was 9% per year, with a 34% increase between 2017-2019. This large increase in the growth of waste is due to asbestos and contaminated soils and large flows to storage of coal seam gas waste.
The previous version (2nd edition) of the national standard for hazardous waste provides guidance on how hazardous waste data is handled in national reporting, including recommended approaches to standardised definitions and classifications. The third edition is intended to help alleviate some of the data collation difficulties and also diminish the differences between regulatory systems, reducing costs and providing more certainty for regulators and businesses.