Chapter 3

Solution options

Roles of national and local authorities

Pesticide management

Authorities should do all they can to develop the capacity for pesticide management and to ensure that products in the supply chain are approved and appropriate. Controls on pesticide distributors should be imposed and mechanisms developed for the management of empty pesticide containers, as well as of unused, unwanted and obsolete pesticides.

Reducing pesticide dependence

Pests, diseases and weeds in agriculture, public health and other situations can often be controlled without the use of synthetic chemical pesticides. Low external input methods, such as organic farming and integrated pest management (IPM) systems, have been very successful in eliminating or significantly reducing the use of pesticides in many countries and situations. Public education on the causes of pest problems and the simple hygiene that prevents them can also reduce reliance on pesticides.

Widespread implementation of low external input systems needs institutional support from government ministries, extension services, researchers and development agencies. Policies and activities that support low external input systems, including organic farming and IPM, can help to prevent the problems of pesticide-related waste as well as other health and environmental problems associated with pesticide use. National and local authorities should consider implementing policies and establishing mechanisms that support the widespread adoption of low external input production systems in agriculture and low external input pest management systems in non-agricultural situations.

Regulating pesticide suppliers and distributors

Pesticide suppliers and distributors are obliged to operate within the laws of the countries in which they trade. They are also required to adhere to international regulatory controls relating to pesticides. Many international organizations such as FAO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and the European Commission have guidelines or codes of practice which pesticide manufacturers and distributors should follow. Pesticide companies that belong to trade organizations also have to follow the codes of practice of those organizations.

National and local authorities can enforce their own regulations, which may include appropriate elements of codes of practice and guidelines from other organizations. Regulations should ensure that pesticide suppliers and distributors follow practices that minimize the risk of their products causing harm. Licensing systems, for example, can help enforce regulations and maintain standards throughout the pesticide supply chain.

One of the main concerns of these guidelines is that pesticide suppliers and distributors be regulated to ensure that their products are sold, stored, used and disposed of in ways that minimize the generation of waste. Suppliers and distributors should also be required, or at least encouraged, to provide ways of dealing with any waste that is generated by, for example, providing reverse supply chains to collect empty containers and unused or unwanted pesticides.

Training pesticide users

National and local authorities should raise awareness among pesticide users of the hazards of pesticides; the importance of avoiding them as far as possible; and the correct handling, storage and use of pesticides when their use is unavoidable.

Extensive efforts have already been made in these areas. National authorities, international agencies and pesticide suppliers have implemented education and training programmes in many countries and regions. Nevertheless, in many parts of the world there is still a profound lack of understanding about the hazards that pesticides present and the ways in which these hazards can be mitigated.

People are more likely to stop generating pesticide wastes and misusing empty containers when they understand the hazards involved and how to avoid them. A wide range of media, including radio, newspapers, posters, direct verbal communication (from extension officers, for example) and formal training can be used to communicate the relevant information to pesticide end users. Publicity and education campaigns need to be repeated, so that information is not forgotten.

These campaigns should be directed towards anybody who buys pesticides, uses them and/or deals with pesticide waste and empty containers. Several different campaigns may be needed to reach all of the various groups and individuals involved. For example, in many communities women show greater concern for potential health problems than men. It may, therefore, be more effective to direct information and training to women because, even if they do not use pesticides themselves, they often pass the message on more effectively to those who do.

Information routes will also vary considerably. In some places, for instance, women rarely come into contact with agricultural extension officers, but meet health workers frequently. Or children, who may be more willing to accept warnings about their elders’ uses of pesticides and may also have higher levels of literacy, can be taught in schools through reading material. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and farmers’ organizations often work with communities that are not in regular contact with government authorities. Teachers, health workers, other community services and NGOs may, therefore, all be involved in programmes aimed at improving the health and safety profile of pesticides.

Collection schemes

National and local authorities can help with the disposal of farmers’ and householders’ pesticide-related waste by establishing infrastructures for the collection and appropriate management of small quantities of pesticides and contaminated materials.

In some countries widely publicized "amnesties", aimed at removing all existing waste materials, have encouraged the holders of pesticide waste to bring it to local collection points. Amnesties should be accompanied by training, education and publicity on how to prevent further accumulation of pesticide wastes. At the same time, systems that support this aim should be established. For example, arrangements can be made with pesticide distributors to take back empty containers and unused pesticides.

When collection schemes are established, the authorities should ensure that collection points and interim storage facilities for waste are secure and present no hazard to the health of people or animals or to the environment. Everybody involved in operating a collection scheme should be trained in the handling of toxic materials and have access to adequate and appropriate safety and handling equipment. Waste materials should be transported only after they have been securely packed and only on vehicles that meet the specifications of the UN Recommendations on the transport of dangerous goods.8 Management or disposal of all the collected pesticide waste should be in keeping with the FAO guidelines on the disposal of bulk quantities of obsolete pesticides in developing countries.

Roles of suppliers

Pesticide suppliers include the manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers of pesticides. They can do a great deal to prevent the problems associated with the disposal of waste pesticides and empty containers.

Everybody involved in the supply chain that delivers pesticides to end users has a responsibility to ensure that customers are well informed about, and protected from, the potential hazards of pesticides. Suppliers must, therefore, establish pesticide storage and sale practices and after-sales service that protect pesticide users, the general public and the environment, as detailed in the FAO International code of conduct on the distribution and use of pesticides.9

Most countries already have legislative and regulatory systems that control the manufacture, import, distribution and use of pesticides. Individuals or bodies who are involved in these functions as part of their commercial activities are required to adhere to national law. In many developing countries the regulatory systems controlling pesticides are less developed than they are in industrialized countries. The responsibility therefore, falls on pesticide suppliers and distributors to ensure that their products and activities comply with local and international law and best practice.

Some major pesticide manufacturers implement product stewardship programmes aimed at enforcing good practice throughout the life cycle of their products. Stewardship should extend to the use and final disposal of unused products, waste and containers. Suppliers should establish mechanisms that allow pesticide end users to dispose of pesticide-related waste safely.

Storing pesticides

When distributors store pesticides properly, containers are less likely to become damaged and the risk of chemicals leaking and contaminating other materials is greatly reduced. Good stock management helps to minimize the accumulation of obsolete pesticide stocks.

Pesticides held by distributors should always be stored in secure and appropriately constructed stores managed by trained personnel. Details on the safe storage and management of pesticide stocks are given in the FAO publications Pesticide storage and stock control manual10and Provisional guidelines on prevention of accumulation of obsolete pesticide stocks.11

Pesticide stores should be solidly constructed and secure, with good ventilation and impermeable floors that will contain chemical spills and the water used in fire-fighting. Inside the store, small containers of pesticide should be stored on shelves while larger drums and sacks are on pallets. Stores should be appropriately equipped to deal with such emergencies as fire, leakage and poisoning.

Damaged containers and contaminated materials should be safely repackaged by persons trained in the handling of toxic materials and then removed immediately from the store. Pesticides in damaged containers should never be sold for use. Similarly, pesticides that have leaked from their original containers and been repackaged should not be sold for use but should be disposed of appropriately.

Container design

The design of pesticide containers must take into account all the specific requirements related to the safe handling of pesticides. Containers should be designed to allow safe storage, transport, preparation and use of the product, as well as rinsing and disposal of the empty container. The design of features such as the pouring orifice should allow for smooth flow of the contents and for complete emptying of the container; handles should not be integral with the container as this might create reservoirs of pesticide that are difficult to empty or rinse out.

In recent years, containers have been designed to limit operator exposure and allow efficient emptying and cleaning. However, many of them require the use of expensive and sophisticated pesticide application equipment which is not always available. In developing countries, technology, personal protective equipment and running water are often lacking and pesticide suppliers should supply products in containers that are appropriate for these conditions.

The use of soluble packaging completely eliminates the need for container disposal, but the soluble packs themselves must be contained in waterproof packaging to prevent accidental leakage of pesticides. Soluble packs must also be of an appropriately small size for farmers in the developing world to avoid the waste and other hazards that arise from the partial use of large packs.

Reusable packaging that is designed for return to the original suppliers must be robust enough to withstand local conditions of transport, storage and use. Containers should be designed to allow efficient emptying and rinsing so that they are as clean as possible when returned for reuse. They should be indelibly marked so that their use and contents are easily identifiable. Lids should be permanently attached to containers to limit contamination from the small amounts of pesticide that remain inside.

Selling pesticides in small quantities

Pesticide users often need only small amounts of chemicals to resolve their pest problems. Distributors should stock pesticides in original containers of a size appropriate to local needs. For example, if local farmers are likely to use only 1 litre of a product during a season, it would be inappropriate for distributors to stock and sell that product in 10- or 25-litre units.

Under no circumstances should pesticides be transferred from bulk containers to smaller ones for sale to the public. Pesticide vendors sometimes transfer products into plastic bags or bottles for sale in small quantities. The containers used may originally have been for drinks or medicines, and are generally not properly labelled. This practice is extremely dangerous because pesticide end users do not have such essential information as what hazards are associated with the product or the dose required for effective use. People may not realize that an unlabelled bottle or other container contains pesticide, and may unwittingly expose themselves to extreme hazards. The practice of decanting pesticides from their original containers into other containers is contrary to the FAO international code of conduct on the distribution and use of pesticides.

Do not encourage overbuying and stocking of pesticides. Pesticide distributors should not encourage users to buy larger quantities of pesticides than they are likely to use in a season. Sales staff often encourage bulk buying by offering lower unit prices per litre or kilogram so that the turnover of products is faster for the distributor. Pesticide end users are thereby often left with products for which they have no valid use and this may result in inappropriate use of pesticides on crops or in situations for which they are not intended; overuse of pesticides; deterioration of products that have been stored for long periods; and damage to inappropriately stored containers.

Distributors should make a commitment to take back unused products from users who have been oversupplied (see below).

Do not sell pesticides that are inappropriate, out of date or close to their sell-by date. Farmers, householders and other pesticide end users often rely on retailers for advice about the best products for a particular purpose, and for guidance on how to use those products. It is therefore crucial that vendors are well informed about pesticides and that products are accompanied by labels and other informative material that users can understand.

Pesticide manufacturers should train retailers about which products are appropriate for particular pest problems and situations. Pesticides should only be sold for the purposes for which they are intended as indicated on the product label. For example, insecticides should not be sold for use as rodenticides, and insecticides for public health should not be used in agriculture.

Pesticides should be supplied in formulations that end users can apply effectively. For example, formulations designed for bulk application by aircraft or tractor-mounted sprayers are unlikely to be appropriate for small-scale farmers using knapsack sprayers, and wettable powders should not be sold for dry application.

Pesticide distributors and sales people should also take note of the date by which products should be used (the expiry date). When its expiry date has passed, a product should never be sold or supplied for use, even at a discounted price; its use could be dangerous. Products should not be supplied to retailers or end users within one season or six months (whichever is the shorter period) of their expiry date. The expiry date should always be clearly marked on the product package.

Take back empty containers and unused pesticides. End users of pesticides generally have neither the expertise nor the resources to dispose of empty pesticide containers and unused or unwanted pesticides safely. The burial or burning of waste are unacceptable practices because they can cause irreversible damage to human health and the environment (see Inappropriate disposal practices, p. 13).

Pesticide distributors should help users of their products to dispose safely of empty containers and pesticides that cannot be used. Collection and disposal systems can be developed in conjunction with national or regional authorities).

The following are some of the measures that provide pesticide users with safe and reliable systems for disposing of their pesticide-related wastes:

Do not sell products that are unlabelled or labelled in a foreign language. The product label is generally the only means by which a pesticide can be clearly identified. Labels also provide crucial information on efficacy, dosage, modes and timing of use, hazards associated with the product and precautions that users should take. Pesticides without product labels should be disposed of because they may be inappropriately or dangerously used.

All pesticides supplied to end users should be clearly labelled in accordance with the FAO International code of conduct on the distribution and use of pesticides.13 Labels should be in a widely understood local language and should include pictograms that clearly identify product hazards, appropriate modes of storage and handling and other precautions that users should be aware of.

Products that have no label, have a damaged label or are labelled in a language other than the most commonly used local language should never be sold or supplied. This rule also applies to pesticides that have been decanted into containers other than those in which they they were supplied.

Roles of users

Avoiding pesticide dependence

Pesticides are often used inappropriately in situations where simple hygiene or the forces of nature would be equally or more effective. Reliance on chemical pesticides derives from a lack of understanding of the causes of pest problems, misunderstanding of what pesticides can do, and lack of knowledge about alternative pest control methods.

Training and information programmes aimed at farmers and other pesticide users should promote the principles of IPM and make as much use as possible of non-chemical measures to keep pest populations below damaging levels. Alternative measures include cultural or environmental controls, physical barriers and the encouragement or introduction of natural enemies of pests.

Control measures are not always necessary, even when pests are present. A small pest population, for example, may cause only insignificant damage. When control is required, the emphasis should be on managing the pest population rather than eradicating it completely (which may, in any case, be impossible). Chemical pesticides, when used, should be carefully selected and introduced in a way that minimizes adverse effects on people and the environment.

Programmes that raise awareness of the hazards of pesticides encourage users to treat pesticides with care, minimize their use, and manage them and their waste products cautiously.

If pesticide users are to change the ways in which they currently buy, use and dispose of pesticides, they need to have reliable information and advice and appropriate resources available to them. Information and resources should be provided by the government and industry.

Buying pesticides

Users should ensure that they buy only those pesticides that are appropriate for the purpose. The massive range of pesticides and commercial formulated products available makes it difficult for users to know which is the most suitable product for a particular pest problem.

Before buying or using pesticides, anybody affected by an outbreak of pests should seek independent advice about alternative ways of controlling it. Advice should also be sought about the most suitable pesticide products, should they be necessary. Independent advisers include agricultural extension officers, other growers and agricultural development organizations in the area. Additional sources of useful information include newspapers and magazines, radio programmes, reference books and the Internet, when they are available. When it has been decided that a chemical pesticide must be used, distributors should advise on the most suitable product for a given task.

The product selected should not only be effective against the pest but should also be of a formulation that is appropriate to the type of application equipment used by the buyer. For example, a small-scale farmer with a knapsack sprayer should not buy a formulation intended for bulk application from crop-dusting aircraft or tractor-mounted sprayers.

Products should be bought only when they are in their original, sealed containers. Containers that are damaged or appear to have been opened previously should not be bought. Nor should pesticides that have been transferred from the containers in which they were supplied by the manufacturer or importer into any other container. Pesticides are often repacked for situations and in regions where end users require only small quantities and original containers are too large. The transfer of pesticides into empty drink bottles, small plastic bags, empty cans or containers from other pesticide products is particularly dangerous since the pesticides cannot be properly identified and may be mistaken for other items such as beverages. This has caused many cases of poisoning, particularly of children. In addition, decanted products lack the hazard information and instructions for use that appear on product labels and are, therefore, likely to be misused.

Users should only buy pesticides in containers that have an original and complete product label attached. The label should be in a local language and be clearly legible. Pesticide users should always read the product label because it includes a great deal of useful and important information. Pesticide buyers or users who cannot understand the label should seek help from someone they know and trust. The label should include information about:

Labels should be designed and printed in accordance with FAO’s Guidelines on good labelling practice for pesticides.14 End users of pesticides are unlikely to know about the FAO labelling guidelines, so if the label does not contain the information listed above, or is incomprehensible to the user, the product should not be purchased.

Pesticides should be bought in quantities that can be used within a few weeks at most. In general, only as much product as is needed for a given pest control task should be purchased so that users do not have to store significant quantities of unused pesticides. Buyers should resist pressure from pesticide vendors to buy larger quantities than are needed, even if cost reductions are offered. They should also negotiate the return of empty containers and unused pesticides to the distributor.

The provision of free pesticides is a dangerous activity and should be prevented by regulation and good trading practices. Offers of free pesticides should be treated with caution and accepted only if the products provide an appropriate solution to an existing pest problem. Pesticides that are intended for use on major crops such as cotton or coffee are often offered for use on other crops such as vegetables, or for the control of domestic pests. Such offers should not be accepted since the use of pesticides in situations for which they are not intended can be dangerous and has been known to lead to poisoning through toxic food residues. Free pesticides should only be accepted if unused quantities can be returned.

Storing pesticides

Owners and end users of pesticides have a responsibility to store them safely so that they do not cause harm. Badly stored pesticides are likely to deteriorate and become unusable or obsolete. The following conditions should be adhered to when pesticides are stored in homes or on farms:

Empty containers

When a container of pesticide is finished, it should be cleaned out as completely as possible. For liquid (e.g. emulsifiable concentrate) or solid (e.g. wettable powder) formulations that are diluted before application, containers should be triple-rinsed and the washings used as part of the product dilutant. Containers for dry application products should be emptied as completely as possible.

Washed and emptied containers that the pesticide supplier does not intend to reuse should be punctured or otherwise rendered unusable for any other purpose. Even apparently empty containers contain pesticide residues that cannot be completely removed and they must, therefore, never be used for any purpose other than storage of the pesticides that they originally contained.

In many countries, empty pesticide containers are highly valued and often sold or exchanged as storage containers for other materials such as fuel, chemicals and even food or water. Such practices are dangerous and should be prevented, for example, by puncturing any empty pesticide containers that cannot be returned to the supplier.

Empty pesticide containers should not be burned or buried. Suppliers and distributors, product labels and even national authorities often recommend these practices, but they are potentially extremely hazardous to human and animal health and the environment. Safe, hazard-free burning techniques require a good understanding of pesticide chemistry while safe pesticide burial requires knowledge of local hydrology as well as of the environmental behaviour of pesticides. Many end users of pesticides do not have such knowledge or cannot apply it to their particular circumstances. It is, therefore, strongly recommended that the burying or burning of pesticide-related waste and empty containers be discouraged rather than, as happens at present, encouraged.

Whenever possible, empty pesticide containers should be returned to the distributor or taken to an approved collection scheme. If no facilities exist for the return or safe disposal of empty pesticide containers and unwanted or unusable pesticides, end users should lobby pesticide distributors, local authorities and agricultural advisers to establish schemes. The aim should be to remove potentially hazardous waste pesticides and empty containers from users and pass them on to competent authorities who have the resources to deal with them safely.

Unwanted pesticides

Unidentified or unusable pesticides should not be kept or used for any purpose. Neither should pesticides that are out of date or stored in damaged containers. Materials such as shelving, soil, clothing or cleaning materials that have been contaminated with pesticides should be disposed of safely through an approved scheme.

Pesticide-related waste should not be buried, burned or dumped. Advice should be sought from pesticide suppliers or local and government authorities. Only approved collection schemes should be used to dispose of waste pesticides, empty containers and contaminated materials. If no such scheme exists, pesticide distributors and local authorities should be encouraged to establish one.

8 UN. 1995.

9 FAO. 1990.

10 FAO. 1996b.

11 FAO. 1995a.

12 UN. 1995.1

13 FAO. 1990

14. 1995c