The process of safely removing and disposing of obsolete pesticides is technically complex and costly. Most developing countries will require external technical and financial assistance to do the job.
However, a country that takes appropriate action before approaching donors has a better chance of success. In addition, taking appropriate action early on in the process, countries can both reduce the costs of cleanup operations and help to build their capacity to manage pesticides and hazardous waste.
Countries that prioritize disposal of obsolete pesticide stockpiles, must take action to prevent any further accumulation of stocks.
Prevention of obsolete pesticides is as important as their elimination.
FAO as well as most donors will only support disposal operations that are accompanied by adequate prevention programmes. Donors will be willing to contribute to the costs of cleaning up obsolete only if requesting countries can demonstrate that this will be a one-time expenditure.
Authorities within the country must identify the root cause for the accumulation of the stocks and adopt measures to ensure that no more stocks will accumulate.
By following the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides, governments can ensure that useless or unwanted pesticides don't enter the country and that the pesticides that are allowed in are stored and managed safely.
The FAO Programme on Prevention and Disposal of Obsolete Pesticides has published several guidelines specifically related to the prevention of obsolete stocks.
Cleaning up obsolete pesticides is technically very complex and a costly process. Disposal of obsolete pesticides currently costs between 3 and 5 USD per kilogram or litre of pesticide or contaminated material. This covers the costs of repackaging, site clean-up, overland transportation, shipment to Europe and incineration in dedicated high-temperature hazardous waste incinerators.
To date about 3 000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides have been disposed of from 14 countries at a cost of almost 14 million.
On the basis of global estimate totalling 250 000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides, about 1.25 billion would be needed to destroy all the stocks.
The costs of not disposing of these pesticides cannot be calculated. And unfortunately, because they can't be calculated, they are ignored.
How do you measure the costs associated with people becoming sick from continued exposure to pesticides; the chronic illness, the reproductive problems and birth defects?
How do you measure the costs associated with a poisoned environment? Once the local environmental is contaminated it becomes prohibitively expensive to remedy. In some cases the damage is irreversible. And sometimes, the contamination is more than just local. Pesticide contamination can cross national boundaries, creating an international health and environmental catastrophe.
If nothing is done, it is the poor communities situated near these hazardous waste sites that pay the price. They are deprived of any chance to escape poverty and start on the road to sustainable development.
Obsolete pesticides stockpiles represent a tremendous waste of money.
The cost of the original product and its transportation to the country where it is currently found is wasted since the product was never used for its intended purpose. Storage of the pesticides has an associated cost that may be as little as a plot of open space that is unavailable for other uses to the construction of properly designed pesticide stores and payments to guards and storekeepers to care for them. If leakage has occurred resulting in human or environmental exposure there will be costs for medical care, environmental losses and decontamination, and ultimately one must add the cost of repackaging, transportation and destruction for the pesticides that became obsolete.
What is less easy to measure, but equally wasted, are the benefits that could have accrued if that money had been invested in other development projects. And in cases where the pesticides purchased were unsuitable, the pest problem will still need to be addressed .
There is a tremendous economic incentive in preventing the accumulation of obsolete pesticides stocks. Prevention needs to be given the same priority as the disposal of existing stocks.
One of the best ways to prevent the accumulation of obsolete pesticides is to reduce their use as much as possible. Donors and governments should carefully examine whether the increased production attributed to pesticide use really outweigh the costs of pesticides, including the hidden and environmental costs due to misuse and obsolescence. They should study alternatives, such as integrated pest management techniques and control methods using locally produced inputs such as botanical extracts.