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Used oil management: How French territories are turning a problem into a solution

New Caledonia and Wallis & Futuna progress in managing used oil harmful to human health and the environment through existing legislative, technical and financial tools

French territories in the Pacific, namely New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna, are making good progress in managing used oil which are harmful to human health and the environment.

The progress and how they are turning a problem into a solution was highlighted during a Deep Dive Side Event held on the first day of the Third Clean Pacific Roundtable, from 16 November until 25 November 2021. The event was a chance to provide an overview of used oil management challenges in the Pacific, where the French Territories shared their experiences on the existing legislative, technical and financial tools to address this issue.

The session, delivered in French to highlight the diversity of lessons-learned from all Pacific islands, was moderated by Julie Pillet, Technical Coordinator of the AFD-funded SWAP project.

“Generally speaking, these used oils include used engine oils, compressor oils, hydraulic fluids, etc. and due to our production processes and lifestyle, we cannot do without them,” said Pillet.

But used oils may contain several compounds that are harmful to human health and the environment, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metal particles, and other additives such as polychlorinated biphenyls, or chemicals used to improve oil performance.

Thus, the lack of proper collection, storage, disposal and treatment of used oils can lead to environmental contamination in case of spill on soil, in groundwater, waterways or ocean pollution, and impact human health.  Hazardous compounds can induce various types of cancer; affect the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems; and cause other diseases.

This is why effective waste oil management is extremely important to ensure a sustainable and healthy environment. During the side event, the four presentations highlighted that the technical arrangements for waste oil management must be adapted to the local context, in particular the available resources and existing infrastructures.

In a large territory such as New Caledonia, with sufficient waste oil production and appropriate infrastructures, local recovery is possible, provided that the quality of the oil allows it. In this context, the priority is to encourage producers to ensure appropriate collection and storage in order to secure the quality of used oils.

But in a small, isolated islands with a small population, the production of used oils is insufficient to set up sustainable treatment/recovery facilities.

Ateliana Maugateau, Assistant to the Head of the Territorial Environment Service of Wallis and Futuna, said that “the optimal solution would be to regularly evacuate the collected used oil, but the yearly produced deposit is not cost-effective for export, so we have to store large quantities over several years before we can move them.”

In this context, the priority is to implement long-term temporary storage centres that meet environmental and sanitary standards, including equipment to follow-up the impact on the environment.

Thus, these centres must be designed to anticipate any spill that could pollute and induce significant costs for decontamination works. The objective is also to ensure that the operation – that being collection, storage, transfer – is done in good conditions to avoid degradation of used oil quality.

Thomas Klein, Managing Director of the Company SOCADIS SARL, reminded that “the worse the quality of the used oil, the higher the cost of treatment.”

Maugateau also suggested a regional recovery mechanism to develop a circular economy through regional cooperation in management as well as in maritime transfer of hazardous waste in compliance with international regulations.

But, the experiences of New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna have shown that whatever the context and the arrangements adopted, the costs of used oil management remain significant since they must cover the expenses of collection, storage, transfer and disposal.

To do this, the implementation of national sustainable financing mechanisms is required to cover these costs, either through import taxes or through the implementation of other systems such as the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) principle implemented in New Caledonia.

This mechanism is framed by a text setting out the obligations of producers and the penalties applicable in case of non-compliance. This regulatory system is also framed by a Terms of Reference outlining the collection and recovery objectives, as well as the collection, processing, traceability and financing arrangements.

Consequently, each producer and treatment operator must draw up and submit its own Management Plan for approval by the Province, which issues a five-year agreement. An activity report must be filed annually and approved by a Commission. The regulation also allows for administrative and, or penal sanctions in case of infraction such as false quantitative declaration, waste dropouts, and illegal dumping.

Sandra Sontheimer, Prevention and Waste Management Engineer of the Environment Department of the Southern Province in New Caledonia, said the EPR mechanism makes it possible to implement preventive actions in terms of waste production, to finance the sector and improve the transparency of management costs, as well as to support the acceleration of industrialisation and the modernisation of waste management processes.

In practice, the producers and importers of oils and derived products in New Caledonia are gathered within the non-profit eco-organisation TRECODEC, which implements the obligations attached to the EPR system.

To do so, the price of the products includes an eco-participation of 26 XPF per litre to cover the management costs. Thus, the consumer pays this eco-participation to the distributor who transfers it to TRECODEC. TRECODEC will then finance the equipment and devices for collection and processing.

Bernard Creugnet, Director of the eco-organization TRECODEC, underlined that the advantage of this system is to support the implementation of treatment processes for new streams.

TRECODEC is working on the development of treatment channels for related waste such as rags, cans, filters, hoses, aerosols with hydrocarbon derivatives.

SPREP through the four-year SWAP (Committing to Sustainable Waste Actions in the Pacific) project, funding by the Agence française de développement (AFD), is assisting its Pacific Island Member Countries and Territories (Fiji, French Polynesia, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga and Wallis and Futuna) to develop institutional mechanisms such as national used oil management plans that include sustainable financing mechanisms to govern their use and management. SWAP also provides them with technical and financial supports for the design and implementation of collection, processing, and recovery systems.

The Deep Dive Session on Used Oil Management was held on 16 November 2021.  It featured Ms Ateliana Maugateau, Assistant to the Head of the Territorial Environment Service of Wallis and Futuna, Ms Sandra Sontheimer, Prevention and Waste Management Engineer – Environment Department of the Southern Province – New Caledonia, Mr Bernard Creugnet, Director of the eco-organisation TRECODEC and Mr Thomas Klein, Managing Director of the Company SOCADIS SARL.

The Third Clean Pacific Roundtable was held virtually from 16 – 25 November.  It is a partnership event supported by New Caledonia, Acotred Pacific, Agence Francaise de Development (AFD), Australian Aid (AUS Aid), European Union (EU), Fonds Pacifique, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), UN Environment Programme, Province SUD and Province NORD.

This story was produced by Nanette, published at SPREP on 27 November 2021, reposted via PACNEWS.

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