Agricultural chemicals: how to safely handle and dispose of responsibly

This page explains what agricultural chemicals are, why they are an environmental problem and provides information on what to do with agricultural chemicals you no longer need, how to safely handle, store and transport agricultural chemicals, and what New Zealand is doing to manage them.

What are agricultural chemicals?

New Zealand's agriculture sector uses chemicals for pest and weed management, animal health, sanitation and meeting export requirements.

Agricultural chemicals (agrichemicals) refer primarily to herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. Other chemicals used in farming are veterinary medicines, vertebrate toxic agents (eg, rodenticides) and disinfectants. Agrichemicals can become surplus when farming methods or farm owners change, chemicals expire, or chemicals previously in use are deregistered. 

Why agricultural chemicals are a problem

Improper use or disposal of agrichemicals can pose a significant risk to the environment, human and animal health, and trade. Leaking chemical containers can poison waterways, soil and groundwater.

Some surplus agrichemicals are inappropriately stored, in damaged containers, or are unlabelled. Agrichemical containers are also potentially toxic until adequately cleaned.

Persistent organic pollutants

Among the waste agrichemicals collected in New Zealand are deregistered chemicals which have been declared as persistent organic pollutants (or POPs) under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants [POPs website]. Safe, effective collection and disposal of these chemicals is required for New Zealand to meet its obligations under the Stockholm Convention.

An estimated 2 tonnes of the agrichemicals collected between 2009 and 2011 contained POPs.

What to do with agrichemicals you no longer need

Waste agrichemicals and their containers are collected for safe destruction by many regional councils and through the Agrecovery chemicals programme [Agrecovery website]. Agrichemicals from companies that are members of the Agrecovery programme can be collected for free, but other chemicals will attract a user-pays fee unless subsidised by the regional council.

How to safely handle, store and transport agrichemical chemicals and other hazardous substances

These safety tips provide information to help protect your family, friends, property and the environment when you handle, store and transport agrichemicals.

Safety checklist

  • Check the labels on containers and follow any handling instructions. Use protective clothing and equipment such as a mask and gloves.
  • Don't eat, drink or smoke when handling chemicals.
  • Keep hazardous substances away from children, food, animal feed, seeds, fertiliser or flammable material such as petrol or oil.
  • Check if any containers are damaged or leaking. Put leaking containers inside another secure container and put a label on the outside describing the contents.
  • Place hazardous substances you wish to store in a dry, well-ventilated and securely locked shed or cupboard and keep them off the ground.
  • Store chemicals in labelled containers (ideally their original container), with lids tightly closed.

Tips for transporting hazardous substances

  • Make sure all containers are securely sealed so they can't leak or give off fumes.
  • Keep flammable and reactive materials separate from each other and from other chemicals.
  • Line the vehicle with plastic sheeting to contain any spillages.
  • Put hazardous wastes in the boot or tray of the vehicle, not in the cab with you, or use a trailer.
  • Keep the load dry and avoid wet weather conditions.

Important information

  • Never tip old or unwanted chemicals into drains or onto the ground, as this poisons waterways and could harm animals.
  • Never bury or burn chemicals or empty containers. This releases toxic gases that contain dioxin and it is against the law. Never dump old or unwanted chemicals. Call your local council for advice on safe disposal options.

What New Zealand is doing to manage waste from agricultural chemicals

Removing legacy agrichemicals

The Ministry for the Environment worked with regional councils from 2003 to 2009 to substantially reduce the burden of legacy agrichemicals in the New Zealand environment. The programme cleared more than 400 tonnes of legacy agrichemicals from farms.

Approximately 80 per cent of the agrichemicals collected in this programme were 'intractable‘, or unable to be safely treated in New Zealand. Intractable chemicals are disposed of by shipping to an approved high temperature incinerator overseas, typically in France or Germany. The remainder of the collected agrichemicals were treated and disposed of in New Zealand.

The Basel Convention [Basel website] requires the disposal of hazardous wastes to occur in an environmentally sound and efficient way. Offshore shipments of intractable agrichemicals for disposal are done in strict compliance with the Basel Convention.

A survey in 2006 estimated that there were approximately 175 tonnes of intractable agrichemicals remaining in New Zealand, and found many regions were effectively clear (very low levels remaining) of legacy agrichemicals. The Agrecovery chemicals programme currently collects about 16 tonnes per year.

Agrecovery chemicals programme

The Agrecovery chemicals programme is a not-for-profit charitable trust and has over 50 brand owner members paying levies to support end-of-life treatment of their products and product packaging. This levy only covers modern and currently registered agrichemicals of the member companies, and a user-pays or ratepayer-pays framework is available for other chemicals

The programme has been accredited as a voluntary product stewardship scheme by the Minister for the Environment under Part 2 of the Waste Minimisation Act.

Many regional councils have programmes that are coordinated and co-funded with Agrecovery. Some councils such as Hawke’s Bay Regional Council run their own agrecovery collection programme year-round.

What is the long-term solution?

In 2012, the Minister approved $50,000 from the Waste Minimisation Fund to co-fund a working party of industry, users, and councils to look at more effective management options for agrichemicals. This group reported their recommendations to the Minister in 2013.

Priority waste streams discussion document

Agrichemicals and their containers is one of four proposed priority waste streams in a discussion document released by the Minister in May 2014. 

Submissions closed 2 July 2014.

More information about the consultation is available on our About product stewardship web page.

Find out more

Code of Practice for the Management of Agrichemicals (NZS8409:1999)
The New Zealand Agrichemical Education Trust's code of practice for managing agrichemicals. Copies can be bought from the Standards New Zealand website or your local bookstore.

GROWSAFE [Growsafe website]
The NZ Agrichemical Education Trust’s training covering the knowledge and practices required for safe, responsible and effective use of agrichemicals.