Disposal of food waste

Everyone has a responsibility to ensure food wastes containing animal material are disposed of correctly to reduce the risk of an emergency disease outbreak occurring.

Food wastes containing animal material or wastes contaminated by animal material pose a risk of an emergency or exotic animal disease outbreak if fed to susceptible stock. Stock owners, businesses generating food waste, waste disposal businesses, local authorities, government departments, community groups and private individuals all have responsibilities in preventing stock from accessing food wastes that could contain prohibited matter.

Food waste that contains material derived from a mammal or bird (e.g. blood bone, egg, faeces, meat), or that may have been in contact with material derived from a mammal or bird, are prohibited feed for pigs and poultry (swill) and must not be feed to pigs or poultry. This applies to all pigs and poultry, including pets and those owned by hobby farmers.

Food waste that contains material derived from any vertebrate animal, including fish (e.g. blood bone, egg, faeces, meat), or that may have been in contact with material derived from any vertebrate animal, is restricted animal material (RAM) and must not be feed to ruminants.

For example, food or food scraps from a restaurant, a hotel or domestic premises that may have been in contact with meat is both RAM and prohibited feed for pigs and poultry and must not be fed to ruminants, pigs or poultry.

The risk to animals

Organisms that cause animal disease can survive in foodstuffs. Food preparation processes do not destroy all infectious agents. Animals eating foods that contain or have been in contact with animal material may be exposed to these infectious agents and a disease outbreak can result. The 2001 foot and mouth disease out break in the UK and the 2018-19 African Swine Fever global spread have both been associated with animals being fed food wastes containing animal material.

Food wastes end up in a range of disposal systems. Unless there are extensive controls over how waste is collected and segregated, all waste must be regarded as potentially contaminated.

Legal obligations and restriction

Legislation in all Australian states and territories, including Queensland's Biosecurity Act 2014, outlaws feeding restricted animal material to ruminants or prohibited feed for pigs and poultry (swill) to pigs. This applies to all production types including pets and animals owned by hobby farmers. Strict penalties apply for feeding or supplying RAM and swill.

In Queensland, legislation prohibits anyone from:

  • feeding ruminants RAM or pig or poultry prohibited feed for pigs and poultry
  • allowing these animals to have access to RAM or prohibited feed for pigs and poultry
  • selling or supplying RAM if they know it is to be fed to ruminants
  • selling or supplying prohibited feed for pigs and poultry if they know it is to be fed to pigs or poultry.

For example, a food business permitting someone to collect food scraps to feed to ruminants, pigs or poultry would be committing an offence and may be prosecuted, as well as the person collecting the scraps to be fed.

The legislation also requires that a person must take all reasonable steps to ensure that ruminants, pigs and poultry do not feed on RAM or prohibited feed for pigs and poultry respectively. Property owners who dispose of food waste into the environment must take all reasonable steps to prevent ruminants, pig and poultry access to the site.

Animal-matter foodstuffs that may be fed to ruminants, pigs and poultry

Ruminants, pig and poultry may be fed

  • gelatine
  • used cooking oil that was used for cooking in Australia and has been collected and processed in accordance with the National standard for recycling of used cooking fats and oils intended for animal feeds
  • milk of Australian origin or milk lawfully imported into Australia as feed for livestock
  • milk products or milk by-products made in Australia and derived from milk of Australian origin or a milk product lawfully imported into Australia as feed for livestock

In addition, pigs and poultry (but not ruminants) may be fed

In addition, ruminants may be fed

Preventing ruminants, pigs and poultry from having access to contaminated food waste is the key. You must consider potential access by both domestic and feral ruminants, pigs and poultry. Feral pigs in particular create special difficulties.

In addition to the requirements of the Biosecurity Act 2014, there are requirements under the Environmental Protection Act that apply to whatever disposal option is used. Contact the Department of Environment and Science for further information.

Some broad principles can be applied, either separately or in combination, to ensure safe disposal:

  1. Use a licensed waste disposal contractor. This ensures the waste is collected and transported in a manner that keeps it contained and prevents it being exposed to animals. The waste is then disposed of in a licensed landfill site.
  2. If a contractor is not available, food waste should be collected and transported in containers that prevent ruminants, pigs and poultry from accessing it
  3. Bury the material at sufficient depth to prevent access by ruminants, pigs and poultry. Burial should occur immediately if the site is unfenced or unattended.
  4. Dispose of the material at a dump site that is adequately fenced and secure from animal entry to the site

Landfill transfer stations and dump sites

Registered landfill owners must manage sites adequately to prevent ruminants, pigs and poultry, including feral ruminants, pigs and poultry, from gaining access to dumped materials containing RAM and prohibited feed for pigs and poultry.

Fencing may be used to exclude animals from landfill and dump site. The general principles of effective livestock fencing should be considered when deciding what fencing is required under the circumstances. Generally, where pigs may be present (either feral or free ranging domestic stock), more substantial fencing is required.

Principles to consider:

  • Fencing material to exclude livestock. For pigs, a strong mesh-type wire like K-wire may be required; for sheep, a ring-lock style may be adequate, and, for cattle, a four-strand barbed wire style.
  • Design features required in the locality. Consider fence height, post spacing, and suitable straining assemblies.
  • Peculiarities that may exist in the locality or site that could compromise the durability of the fence. For example, soil movement or erosion and flood risk.
  • Secure points of entry into the landfill or dump site and effectiveness of those measures.
  • Risk of stock accessing an unattended site (either day or night).

Scavenging rights

If people have scavenging rights to the landfill or dump site, restrictions should be placed on them to prohibit the removal of animal matter or animal-contaminated matter from the dump and to prohibit them from introducing animals to the dump site.

Rubbish bins and camping grounds

Rubbish bins in national parks, tourist areas and some other public places present a source of food waste that animals could access. Bins that are of solid construction and are either contained behind fences or are fixed so as to prevent contents spillage by animals, reduce the risk. Waste bin lids should exclude birds that may spread waste and should be of a style that closes automatically after use. There should also be enough bins or collection services to deal with the volume of waste generated in these sites. Signage about the risks and appropriate disposal of food waste is recommended.

Camping grounds can also pose a risk if waste material is disposed directly into the environment - for example, thrown into the bush to decompose or buried in shallow holes. Waste should be disposed of into the disposal system set up by the owners of the camping ground.

Household scraps

Household scraps present similar risks to other sources of food waste. The legal responsibilities and principles of waste disposal are the same. Household scraps contaminated with animal matter cannot be fed to ruminants, pigs or poultry, and their disposal must ensure that animals do not access them. Burial or composting in secure sites are the primary methods available for disposal where garbage collection services are not available. They should not be discarded to the environment where they can be accessed by animals. Animal matter can be fed to dogs and cats.