Controlled waste NEPM
In June 1998, the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) made a National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) covering the transport of controlled waste between Australian States and Territories.
The NEPM introduced a system to track the movement of controlled waste around Australia. The following general guide to the tracking system is designed to help those affected by it: waste producers, waste transporters and the operators of waste receiving facilities.
What is a NEPM?
A NEPM is a National Environment Protection Measure made by the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC), a statutory body consisting of the environment ministers from each State and Territory, and the Commonwealth. All ministers have an equal say on the issues they consider and any decisions they make require the agreement of at least two-thirds of members.
The NEPC works:
- to give all Australians the same level of environment protection wherever they live
- to ensure that business decisions are not distorted or markets fragmented by differences in environment protection measures between Australian States and Territories.
Once the NEPC 'makes' a NEPM, it becomes law and must be implemented by each of the participating governments, unless they already have tougher environment protection standards in place.
What is a controlled waste?
A 'controlled waste' is one that can harm human health and the environment unless it is managed properly. The NEPM requires the transport around Australia of these potentially dangerous wastes to be thoroughly documented.
Controlled wastes appear as List 1 of Schedule A to the NEPM (see note below), together with the relevant waste codes. The codes are a shorthand way of identifying controlled wastes and are used in applications and authorisations for the national tracking system under the NEPM.
Movement of controlled waste NEPM
The NEPM for the movement of controlled waste aims to minimise the potential for harm to human health and the environment from the transport of this waste around Australia.
To achieve this, the NEPM establishes a national system to track these transport movements. The system ensures that controlled waste being moved between States and Territories is properly identified, transported and handled in an environmentally sound manner and that it reaches licensed or approved receiving facilities where it will be stored, treated, recycled and/or disposed of.
The NEPM replaced the National Guidelines for the Management of Waste (also known as the National Waste Manifest and Classification System), which were released in 1994. Producers and transporters of controlled waste familiar with the previous system have found that, for practical purposes, the changes brought by the NEPM are not great. However, the old system was very limited in its application whereas the NEPM has introduced a comprehensive national system of monitoring and reporting to thoroughly regulate the interstate transport of controlled waste.
The controlled waste NEPM delivers the following benefits:
- minimal impacts on human health and the environment from the movement of controlled waste between States and Territories
- lower risks to human health and the environment because better record keeping on waste transport makes it easier to identify discrepancies, which may indicate illegal disposal
- greater community confidence that controlled waste is being moved safely and sent to appropriate receiving facilities for treatment or disposal
- lower costs for business because only one transport licence is needed nationwide and application and reporting requirements are standardised across Australia.
The core elements of the NEPM are:
- a nationally agreed list of controlled waste (List 1 of Schedule A to the NEPM), together with their characteristics (List 2 of Schedule A to the NEPM). For more information on NEPM lists, see the note below.
- guidelines for consistent and compatible systems to track the transport of this waste, including a national system of notification and approval before waste is moved
- licences for transporters to move waste interstate which are recognised across Australia
- a requirement that transporters carry an approved waste transport certificate providing information in an emergency about the waste on board and its intended destination
- consultation between States and Territories about the appropriateness of waste movements and enforcement activity.
Note: The controlled wastes in List 1 of Schedule A to the NEPM are listed in Parts 1 and 2 of Schedule 1 of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 (the Regulation). List 2 of the NEPM is reproduced as Table 3 in Schedule 1 of the Regulation. See Waste that must be tracked for more details.
Who is affected by the NEPM?
The controlled waste NEPM affects anyone who:
- produces a controlled waste and wants to transport it to another State or Territory
- is involved in the transport of a controlled waste between States and Territories
- receives a controlled waste from another State or Territory for storage, treatment, recycling, reuse and/or disposal.
The agency responsible for environment protection in each State and Territory is able to advise whether any particular waste to be transported or received across a border is a controlled waste under the NEPM.
Dispatching, receiving or otherwise participating in the interstate transport of a controlled waste without the appropriate approvals is illegal under State and Territory law.
International movement of controlled waste
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and the Australian Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 impose requirements on companies exporting and importing hazardous wastes for the purposes of final disposal and recovery. The Commonwealth Department of the Environment administers the Act and is the designated Australian 'Competent Authority' under the Basel Convention.
The definition and classification of 'hazardous wastes' for international movements are different from those for controlled waste in the NEPM. There are a number of important requirements imposed by Australia's international obligations. Therefore, it is important to contact the Department of the Environment in Canberra before arranging to trade in hazardous wastes with companies overseas.