Chapter 4

Solving existing problems


Products that can be positively identified, are still in usable condition, are within their expiry date and have an appropriate use should be used as instructed on the label. Owners of pesticides that meet these criteria but who, for any reason, cannot use them themselves could transfer them to people who can use them. Such transfers should, ideally, be carried out through a reputable pesticide supplier who is able to identify the product and its most appropriate uses. When reuse prevents pesticides from becoming obsolete or being disposed of inappropriately it is of benefit.

Inappropriate disposal practices

The burial of pesticide-related waste is not an appropriate option. Buried pesticides can leak from their containers into the surrounding soil and spread to contaminate large areas. Leaking pesticides can leach into water to contaminate underground aquifers, rivers, lakes and even the sea. Pesticides in water can damage or destroy aquatic life and affect people and livestock if the water is used for drinking, irrigation or washing. When pesticides and their containers are continually buried on the same site, the area can become severely contaminated and unusable. Conversely, if pesticide-related wastes are buried in several different sites, a far larger land area could eventually become contaminated.

The burning of waste pesticides, empty containers and contaminated materials is another inappropriate practice. When burned, many pesticides release highly toxic fumes that can harm the people and animals who inhale or come into contact with them. Many of the materials from which pesticide containers are made also release toxic fumes when burned. Pesticides burned in open fires often leave toxic residues as a result of incomplete combustion. Burning on open fires or in stoves is therefore not a recommended option for the destruction of pesticide-related waste and empty containers.

Another unacceptable disposal method is the dumping of waste pesticides, empty containers and contaminated materials in landfills or other general waste collection sites. Most waste disposal sites are not designed to prevent toxic materials from leaking into the ground under them or being washed out by rain into water bodies. Pesticides, their containers and contaminated materials need to be treated as toxic waste. They should only be disposed of in approved and appropriately constructed and maintained toxic waste disposal sites. Access to such sites should normally be available only to specialist toxic waste disposal contractors or the relevant national authorities.

Pesticides should never be poured down drains or emptied into rivers, streams, lakes, drainage channels or any other water body. Even a few millilitres of pesticide can kill fish and other aquatic organisms and contaminate very large volumes of drinking- or irrigation water. Removing pesticides from water is an extremely expensive and complex task and in some cases is not possible.

Appropriate disposal practices

Most pesticide users are not equipped to dispose of pesticides and related waste materials safely and should not, therefore, be expected to do so. The stewardship of pesticide products that manufacturers and distributors of pesticides are expected to provide under the FAO international code of conduct on the distribution and use of pesticides should include the provision of facilities that allow pesticide users to dispose of empty containers and pesticide-related waste materials safely.

Such facilities could include the suggestions made in the section on taking back empty containers and unwanted pesticides on pages 10-11 and could be developed in conjunction with national or local authorities, which also have an important role to play in the management of toxic waste and the minimization of hazards from pesticide waste.

In many developing countries, national and local authorities have only limited resources to develop toxic waste collection schemes and facilities for the management of bulk quantities of toxic waste. It is, therefore, imperative that pesticide suppliers and their distribution networks be involved in the development and implementation of solutions.

A fundamental principle of these guidelines is that no attempts should be made to treat or dispose of obsolete pesticides and pesticide wastes at the end-user level. These products should always be removed and dealt with as bulk quantities of obsolete pesticides in keeping with the FAO provisional technical guidelines on the disposal of bulk quantities of obsolete pesticides in developing countries.