Australia produces more than 70 million barrels of crude oil per year and we are one of the largest exporters of natural gas in the world.
Oil and gas are more than a major energy source – they are also the main raw materials for the production of most of the plastics the modern world relies on.
One problem is that when they come out of the ground, oil and gas usually contain mercury. Although the concentrations are small, measured in parts per billion, even a little bit of mercury is enough to damage the equipment used to process and liquefy gas. It can also cause major headaches for plastics manufacturers.
Various methods are used to remove mercury from natural gas. However, this creates mercury-contaminated adsorbents and catalysts that then need to be safely treated in specialist facilities.
At present, significant amounts of this mercury-containing waste is being sent overseas for processing when it could be recycled locally in Australia. Why is this the case?
After all, it costs much more to ship waste overseas than to send it to local recycling plants and it creates a much bigger carbon footprint. Shipping is responsible for 3.5-4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the further something is shipped, the greater those emissions are.
The limits of oversight
Even with the best of intentions and following correct process, this can have unpredictable consequences. The companies generating the waste need to rely on all the downstream handlers of that waste to comply with proper regulations and to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, and once materials are shipped abroad they are no longer subject to Australian regulations. While we mostly associate dodgy dumping practices with less developed countries, even the most advanced countries can have problems with illegal dumping.
In 2014, a German company illegally dumped 98 tonnes of mercury waste near Athens, Greece. The same company was also accused of dumping toxic materials in several other countries, including Denmark and Switzerland.
Keep it local
One way to save money, reduce the illegal diversion of toxic waste and reduce carbon emissions is to minimise the number of companies handling the waste and the number of countries through which it must pass. Where the capabilities exist locally to safely process and recycle the waste, surely it’s much better to opt for the local solution than to send all that hazardous material to the other side of the world.
Most companies operate under both external regulations and stringent internal environmental policies. These may stipulate how many links in the recycling chain that the original generator of waste needs to audit to ensure that all of its waste has been properly and safely dealt with. The fewer the links in the chain, the easier it is to monitor.
Are you an Australian business looking to recycle mercury locally?
As Australia’s largest and most experienced recycler of mercury, Ecocycle is ideally placed to help local resource companies develop transparent, effective and safe solutions for handling mercury-contaminated waste.
Would you like to know more? Call us on 1300 32 62 92, or fill out the form below and one of our recycling experts will get in touch.