Waste management and recycling

Where are the hazards?

Many waste management activities bring potential exposure to a wide range of respiratory or breathing hazards. Such activities include handling waste and recyclables during collection and sorting activities (eg at kerbside and material recycling facilities), processing activities (eg composting, paper, plastic, metal and waste electronic and electrical equipment recycling) and, ultimately, disposal (eg landfill).

Airborne dust and fumes from waste material may contain various metal, wood, plastics and chemical pollutants. Micro-organisms may grow quickly on organic wastes such as vegetation and food waste, and become airborne (called bio-aerosols) when waste is collected and handled, and especially when composted.

What are the risks?

Dust and fumes can cause long-term health problems such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

How to control

To minimise dust, fumes and bio-aerosols entering the lungs, a suitable and sufficient assessment should be carried out to eliminate or reduce the risk of exposure (eg through identification and adoption of suitable control measures). The assessment should be reviewed at appropriate intervals or if there are changes to the process that indicate the risk of exposure will change. 

Control measures adopted might include:

  • safe systems of work, eg during waste collection activities, employees should only open sacks and containers when they are being emptied and, as far as possible, keep away from the tipping point
  • segregation, eg during bulk waste handling and at composting facilities, identify dusty operations and limit the number of employees working for long periods in those areas 
  • dust and fume suppression, eg engineering or ventilation controls, damping down
  • provision of respiratory protective equipment

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Updated: 2021-01-18