Ecotoxicological issues


SESSION C10 / 19 November 2020 / 11:45 - 12:15
William Clarke, The University of Queensland (AU)

How much should be spent on managing emerging contaminants?

The rate that new artificial contaminants are entering the environment is escalating. The effect of these chemicals on bio- or physicochemical pathways is generally not known, nor is the potential for these chemicals to disrupt global regenerative processes. There are precedents of ubiquitous alien chemicals having unanticipated impacts beyond those associated with local contamination, such as the impact of CFCs on the ozone layer. The global effects of persistent non-degradable contaminants such as perfluorocarbons or microplastics in the environment is not known, even though the biological toxicity of many of these compounds is known.
The waste management sector, both water and solid waste, is expected to act as society’s filter and sink for unwanted materials and chemicals. The significance of this role, compared to for example, the significance of the waste management sector in abating greenhouse emissions or preserving natural habitant can be put into context by comparing these roles with the roles that other sectors (e.g., water, food, shelter, energy, transport) might play in achieving a sustainable society. In what environmental impact category might each sector optimally focus, possibly at the expense of sub-optimal performance in some categories, to achieve the best overall sustainable outcome for society? This is a crucial question for assessing the extent to which the waste management sector should focus on capturing and managing emerging artificial contaminants.

Bill Clarke has 20 years of experience as researcher in bioengineering processes for solid organic waste. He has been one of the pioneers in intensive landfill based treatment processes, publishing extensively on leach-bed technology and the solubilisation of solid organic waste. His research group was one of the first to characterise the microbial colonisation and degradation processes for solid organic waste. He is Professor and Remondis Chair in the Schools of Civil and Chemical Engineering at the University of Queensland. Professor Clarke is also the Director of the Centre for Solid Waste Bioprocessing, a collaboration between Remondis Pty Ltd, leading Australian environmental services company, and University of Queensland. The Centre has 3 research programs: Landfill Research, Bio-covers and Utilisation of Waste in the Resource Industry. He has over 100 journal and conference publications. He is also active in consulting, particularly in assessing the energy value of organic resources. He teaches in the Schools of Civil Engineering and Chemical Engineering programs solid waste management and environmental systems modelling.