Waste Management In Action

AgSafe: operation chemical clear

As drumMUSTER celebrates its 20th birthday, AgSafe General Manager Dominique Doyle talks to Waste Management Review about the program’s history.

The agricultural and veterinary (AgVet) chemical classification applies to a range of products developed to protect crops, livestock and domestic animals.

According to the Federal Agriculture Department, AgVet chemicals have produced long-term benefits for Australian agriculture by reducing the effects of weeds, pests and diseases on agricultural and forest production.

This has led to increased productivity, better quality produce, more competitive industries and improved environmental outcomes.

Industry benefit aside, AgVet chemicals and containers create disposal challenges given their composition, ingredients and flammability.

Taking growing hazardous waste rates into account, specialised product stewardship schemes for AgVet products have become critical to managing the agricultural industry sustainably.   

For more than 20 years, AgSafe has worked with rural businesses to promote workplace health and safety practices for AgVet products.

According to General Manager Dominique Doyle, AgSafe achieves this though its chemical and drum collection product stewardship schemes drumMUSTER and ChemClear.

Dominique says drumMUSTER was one of the first product stewardship programs established in Australia. She adds that it is now internationally recognised as a leading example of how the agricultural industry and individual farmers can work together.

She says that for decades, some farmers had been dealing with plastic and metal packaging for AgVet chemicals by burning or burying the material. Dominique adds that stockpiles often piled up.

In 1993, the AgVet Association launched Operation Clean Rinse, with the aim of educating farmers on proper rinsing, cleaning and disposal of chemical containers.

“Operation Clean Rinse served as a precursor to drumMUSTER, which launched five years later,” Dominique says.

The first drumMUSTER collection took place May 1999 in Gunnedah NSW, and since then, the program has collected 33.5 million AgVet containers for recycling.

“That equates to 38,000 tonnes of waste that would have otherwise been sent to landfill, buried or burnt on farms,” Dominique says.

Like most product stewardship schemes, drumMUSTER is financed through a levy.

According to Dominique, participating chemical manufacturers incorporate a six-cent-per-litre charge into the cost of non-returnable chemicals at purchase.

“The levy enables collections across rural Australia at council waste transfer stations, where farmers leave empty AgVet containers for collection by accredited processors,” Dominique says.

“The drums are inspected by drumMUSTER trained inspectors and then transported to recycling facilities.”

drumMUSTER collection sites are mostly located in waste transfer stations operated by regional councils. At the time of writing, 349 councils operated collections at over 800 sites.

She says that as a voluntary program, the drumMUSTER product stewardship program has adapted to fit the needs of councils, farmers, retailers and manufacturers of the chemicals.

Drums Go Round, a recycling company operating in NSW and Victoria, has been working with drumMUSTER since the program began.

According to Drums Go Round Manager Cindy Taylor, the company processes around half a million drumMUSTER containers each year.

“We granulate or shred drumMUSTER material on site with mobile plants to reduce the number of times the product needs to be handled before sale,” Cindy says.

“The material can then be remanufactured into products such as wheelie bins, irrigation and drainage pipes, fencing posts, road signage, outdoor furniture and garden stakes.”

Dominique says while drumMUSTER facilitates recovery options for empty containers, the dilemma of leftover chemicals is similarly significant to the agricultural industry.

Given the safety imperatives of proper chemical disposal, AgSafe developed drumMUSTER’s sister program ChemClear in 2003, using funds from the drumMUSTER levy.

ChemClear operates as a collection and disposal service for unwanted and unknown AgVet chemicals. Farmers and other agricultural industry professionals register their waste with the program and relinquish chemicals for safe removal.

Group one chemicals, including those housed in their original container with a readable label with the drumMUSTER logo, are eligible for free collection.

Group two chemicals, such as those no longer registered, unlabelled or expired, have a variable per-litre fee applied.

Dominique says approximately 80 per cent of all AgVet chemical manufacturers in Australia are involved with the program.

In the year of drumMUSTER’s 20th birthday, Dominique says AgSafe intends to continue expanding the program’s reach.

“We will continue to engage with members and industry stakeholders on how best to expand our operations, with a specific focus on metropolitan and peri-urban areas,” Dominique says.

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