PFAS Controls Needed Now

  • October 16, 2023

The Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) is calling on the Federal and State Governments to implement PFAS controls now. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manufactured chemicals that have gained significant attention due to their potential impacts on human health and the environment. As recently reported in The Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age newspapers, there are considerable and increasing health concerns regarding PFAS in the human body.

Under the current government proposal, only three out of the over 4,000 types of PFAS compounds in existence are to be banned from importation to Australia from 1 July 2025.

This level of PFAS control is simply not going far enough soon enough, Mr Peter Wadewitz OAM, Chair of AORA commented. PFAS are widely used in various consumer and industrial products due to their special properties. They are known for their water and oil repellent characteristics, heat resistance, and non-stick qualities. As a result, PFAS have been used in products like non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, carpets, food packaging, personal care products such as dental floss and shampoo, firefighting foams, and more. However, their widespread use and persistence has raised concerns about their potential long-term effects.

We are seeing some state jurisdictions in Australia implementing PFAS limits in processes such as compost production, Mr Wadewitz noted. PFAS is currently allowed without any government regulation for wide-spread use/application but is then to be regulated by the same governments in end-of-life recycling processes such as composting. The current regulatory approach puts the most established and advanced recycling technology of composting at risk.

Currently, 7.7 million tonnes of organic material is diverted away from landfill every year – the very real risk is that this material will end up back in landfills again. This will result in increased emissions of harmful greenhouse gases and the nutrient value of the organic matter will be lost forever, instead of going to improve our soil health and productivity.  This is a direct contradiction to Australia’s stated position of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2030. None of this makes sense to any reasonable person. This outcome is in complete contradiction to all Federal and State government policies requiring the diversion of organic materials away from landfill.

Australia has to implement meaningful and wide-spread PFAS controls now. This issue is not going to go away and trying to manage it from a product end-of-life scenario will not work. Once the PFAS genie is out of the bottle, and it is, placing controls on industry’s such as the Australian organics recycling industry to manage the PFAS issue is irrational and inappropriate. The only way to effectively manage the PFAS issue is to regulate the source, by banning, or at least restricting its use urgently and that is what we need the Federal and State Governments to do, now.