Environment Counts | Hazardous waste and the environment
Author: Rick Higgins – Published At: 2013-07-19 18:30 – (1055 Reads)
Hazardous waste is essentially waste which presents substantial actual or potential hazard to the life and health of humans, other living organisms and the environment. In 2001 the 164 countries then under the Basel Convention reported producing approximately 108 million tonnes of hazardous waste. The European Union reports in 2010 some 94.5 million tonnes of hazardous waste was generated in the EU-27. The magnitude and diversity of the problems of hazardous waste are vast.Four characteristics define hazardous waste; ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity and toxicity. Hazardous waste comes from widespread and diverse sources including but not limited to residue in old storage containers, batteries, nuclear reactor waste and contaminated sites, abandoned industrial and military sites, pharmaceuticals, oils, solvents and other petroleum products, waste chemicals from industry and mining, and heavy metals from old electronic equipment as common as TVs and computers. Dumps of hazardous waste were left abandoned in some countries after old industrial and military sites were abandoned (including, but not restricted to sites abandoned at the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet era). (http://www.basel.int/)
The 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is one of five important international treaties that deal with hazardous and toxic waste. In May 2013 there were 179 countries plus the European Union under the Basel Convention. The USA has signed but not ratified the convention. This is generally considered the prime international agreement in the field, but there are at least four other relevant international agreements in this field: the Basel Ban Amendment adopted in 1995; the 1996 London Convention Protocol on ocean dumping; the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants; and the Rotterdam Convention on certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade. Information on and links to each of these is included below in the section on international agreements on hazardous waste.
The Basel Convention provides and maintains extensive lists of hazardous waste materials and their characteristics. Many of the 164 countries which are signatories to the 1989 Basel Convention also maintain their own separate lists of what constitutes hazardous waste in their territory which frequently extend beyond the internationally agreed definition set out in the Convention. (see Editor’s comments)
Characteristics, types andÂ sources
Hazardous wastes come in many shapes and forms. They can be liquids, solids, contained gases, or sludges. They can be the byproducts of manufacturing processes or simply discarded commercial products, like cleaning fluids or pesticides. According to the UNEP there are four defining characteristics of hazardous waste:
- Ignitability. Ignitable wastes can create fires under certain conditions or are spontaneously combustible. Examples include waste oils and used solvents.
- Corrosivity. Corrosive wastes are acids or bases that are capable of corroding metal, like storage tanks, containers, drums, and barrels. Battery acid is a good example.
- Reactivity. Reactive wastes are unstable under â€œnormalâ€ conditions. They can cause explosions, toxic fumes, gases, or vapors when mixed with water. Examples include lithium-sulfur batteries and explosives.
- Toxicity. Toxic wastes are harmful or fatal when ingested or absorbed. When toxic wastes are disposed of on land, contaminated liquid may drain (leach) from the waste and pollute ground water. Certain chemical wastes and heavy metals are examples of potential toxic wastes. (This summary definition is consistent with the definition used by the US Environmental Protection Agency).
The complete list of hazardous waste characteristics is available in Annex III of the Basel Convention, and the lists of hazardous categories and substances are in Annexes I, II, VIII and IX of the Basel Convention at the following link. http://www.basel.int/Portals/4/Basel%20Convention/docs/text/BaselConventionText-e.pdf
Types of hazardous waste
The following two charts
indicate the types of hazardous waste generated by countries reporting to the Basel Convention for the years 1993-2000, and the major activities generating hazardous waste in the USA in 2009 with comparison to 2001.
Using the USA as an example, the EPA reports basic chemical manufacturing is the largest hazardous waste generator at over 19 million tonnes in 2009 (and increase from 15 million tonnes in 2001). This is followed by petroleum and coal products manufacturing (7 million tonnes in 2009) and iron steel mills and ferro-alloy manufacturing (3 million tonnes in 2009).
The information provided by; the Basel Convention indicates comparable statistics will vary by country, and over time.
Overall the Basel Convention and USA data indicate a similar ordering of the industries generating the greatest amount of hazardous waste annually.
There are however some major variations by country and over time. As an example, in 2001 Uzbekistan accounted for some 26% of the global total of hazardous waste reported by the Basel Convention. The magnitude and importance of nuclear waste is dealt with separately below and unexploded military ordnance and contaminated military sites are special cases to be addressed in another article on the EC site.
Global generation of hazardousÂ waste
Global distribution of hazardous waste generation
In 2001 countries reporting to
the Basel Convention produced approximately 108 million tonnes of hazardous waste. The following map from the UN Statistics indicates the global distribution with updates (for some, but not all countries) to March, 2011.
The European Union reports “in 2010, some 94.5 million tonnes of hazardous waste was generated in the EU-27; this was higher than in 2004 (89 million tonnes), but lower than in 2006 (101 million tonnes) and 2008 (98 million tonnes)”.
Direct comparability of data on hazardous waste is difficult as noted in Editor’s comments and below in Note on time series data.
Hazardous waste generated by country
The UN Statistics Division also publishes a country by country time series of hazardous waste generation. The following table with graphs presents a time series for each reporting country. To investigate this material click on the XLS icon and then select the country of interest via the drop down list above the graph. This will display the available time series for the selected country on the graph. The table can be used to review the time series data on every reporting country (for the years on which data has been made available by that country. The time series data reported was assembled by the UN from a variety of sources including the Basel Convention and Eurostat.
Note on time series data
Interpreting some of this time series data is hazardous in itself. There are numerous changes over time within country reporting definitions and requirements. One major example is the USA where definitions and reporting requirement changes in 1997 and again in 2001 make it difficult to compare aggregate data on USA hazardous waste production (as accounted in UN reports) so data before those years are not directly comparable with data for subsequent years (without going back to national data sources provided by EPA). eg the above UNEP time series indicates USA hazardous waste production in 1995 at 194 million tonnes, and in 2003 at 27 million tonnes (both are correct, but are not directly comparable).
Major hazardous waste producing countries
The major producing countries are the USA,
Russia, Kazahkstan,Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Germany (along with other European nations), China and India.
The following three cases provide useful and interesting summaries of hazardous waste in three different country specific situations. These supplement the above time series data in the absence of detailed, consistent, reliable data across countries.
UNEP/GRID reports â€œabout 300 military sites fulfilling various purposes â€“ including rocket ranges, tank storage, chemical production and places where radioactive devices were used â€“ were established in Georgia during the Soviet period. After the chaotic withdrawal of the Russian military, some of these areas were simply abandoned , leaving local communities to face up to tonnes of poorly stored explosives and other hazardous material. Also of great concern are the 230 radioactive sources discovered since the mid-1990s.â€ source Source.
- Central Asia
The Cold War left a legacy of major hazardous
waste sites throughout this region. This includes radioactive storage, chemical and biological waste sites and production facilities and uranium mining and milling sites. The UN GRID-Arendal has compiled the following map displaying the extent and nature of the situation.
A U.S. facility that treats, stores or disposes of hazardous waste must obtain a permit for doing so under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Generators of and transporters of hazardous waste must meet specific requirements for handling, managing, and tracking waste. Through the RCRA, Congress directed the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create regulations to manage hazardous waste. Under this mandate, the EPA developed requirements for all aspects of hazardous waste management including the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. In addition to these federal requirements, states may develop more stringent requirements that are broader in scope than the federal regulations. Furthermore, RCRA allows states to develop regulatory programs that are at least as stringent as RCRA and, after review by EPA, the states may take over responsibility for the implementation of the requirements under RCRA. Most states take advantage of this authority, implementing their own hazardous waste programs that are at least as stringent as the federal program.
The US government provides several tools for mapping hazardous wastes to particular locations. These tools also allow the user to view additional information.
TOXMAP is a Geographic Information System (GIS) from the Division of Specialized Information Services Toxmap of the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) that uses maps to help users visually explore data from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory and Superfund Basic Research Programs. TOXMAP’s chemical and environmental health information is taken from NLM’s Toxicology Data Network (TOXNET) Toxnet and PubMed, and from other authoritative sources.
Nuclear, toxic andÂ e-waste
These are to be covered in other EC articles.
International agreements on hazardousÂ waste
There are five major international treaties that deal with toxic material.
- Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted in 1989 to regulate the transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes. 178 countries have now ratified the agreement. The text of the Convention along with a complete list of controlled hazardous waste is available in the Texts and Annexes on this site link.
- The Basel Ban Amendment was adopted in 1995 to ban the export of hazardous waste from OECD countries and Liechtenstein to non-OECD countriesã€‚71 countries have now ratified both the Basel Convention and the Ban Amendments.
- The London Conventionã€€or the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972, is one of the first global conventions to protect the marine environment from human activities and has been in force since 1975. Its objective is to promote the effective control of all sources of marine pollution and to take all practicable steps to prevent pollution of the sea by dumping of wastes and other matter. Currently, 87 States are parties to this Convention. In 1996, the “London Protocol” was agreed to further modernize the Convention and, eventually, replace it. Under the Protocol all dumping is prohibited, except for possibly acceptable wastes on the so-called “reverse list”. The Protocol entered into force in March 2006 and there are currently 42 parties to the Protocol. These conventions are managed by the IMO (International Maritime Organization).
- The Stockholm Conventionã€€ is a global treatyã€€designed to phase out the production of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). 176 countries have now ratified the agreement.
- The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade may be considered as additional to the above four agreements, although it deals with hazardous materials before they become hazardous waste. 144 countries have now ratified the agreement.
Some countries have signed and implemented all four treaties; some countries are yet to sign any. Some countries have signed agreements, but have not yet ratified them (eg USA and the Basel Convention).