Australians warned of toxic landfills

Landfill sites across Australia are being routinely used to dump tens of thousands of tonnes of toxic materials they were never designed to hold, according to the country's waste management industry.

Batteries, toxic paint, household chemicals, electrical equipment and clinical waste are just some of the waste streams presenting an environmental health risk, said waste-to-energy and recycling company Global Renewables at an Adelaide conference this week.

“On OECD figures, each Australian produces around 690 kilos of municipal solid waste per year – making us the second most wasteful country on earth,” said the company’s Casey Cahill.

“This rubbish mostly goes to landfills, which on its own is a loss of re-usable resources, and unfortunately the garbage also contains significant amounts of contaminants – our research shows contaminants make up around 3 per cent of the municipal waste stream, with each Australian producing an average of 20 kilograms of hazardous waste a year.

“People assume that when you put something toxic in a dump it stays there. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case – it can escape into the air or groundwater, while the tip itself will remain a contaminated site for decades.”

Mr Cahill said Australians need to be educated about the dangers of placing hazardous materials in household garbage collection services, while advanced waste treatment facilities can also be used as a gatekeeper to help reduce the amount of toxic or hazardous materials going to landfill sites.

“We need to place a buffer between the household bin and the council burial ground. Advanced waste treatment technology provides that opportunity,” he said.

Global Renewables operates a large-scale facility in Sydney which separates recyclable material from municipal waste and uses the remaining organic-rich waste to produce biogas and compost.

Sam Bond

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