Almost 3 times more dental amalgam waste has been collected in 2017 compared to the previous year, according to data compiled by EPA-licensed mercury distilling company CMA Ecocycle. The figure is based on the total weight of dental amalgam the company collected in each of the last 3 years. Australasia’s main mercury recycler, CMA Ecocycle processes the bulk – up to 95% – of the region’s mercury waste.
The sharp increase suggests industry-wide efforts to educate dental practitioners on the proper disposal of amalgam waste is paying off, says Ian Crawford, Dental Specialist at CMA Ecocycle.
“These figures show an improved commitment and willingness by Australian dentists to do their fair share. They demonstrate the success of industry and state-sponsored awareness campaigns, all of which help to drive home the message that, indeed, dentists play an important role in the protection of our environment by acting responsibly with their amalgam waste.”
Citing data accuracy within 1% margin of error, Ian reveals latest figures showing 2736 kg of dental amalgam was collected with 944 kg of mercury recovered for recycling in 2017. This represents a huge jump over 2016/2015 figures: 955 kg collected and 320kg recovered; 1500 kg collected and 500 kg recovered, respectively.
Ian Crawford is no stranger to the dental-related environmental cause, having been the leading spokesperson for the Dentists for Cleaner Water (DFCW) project. Launched 2008 in Victoria, the $1 million program was aimed at promoting the installation and use of amalgam separators in private sector dental practices in an effort to eliminate mercury from the state’s sewerage systems. DFCW was jointly organized by the Victorian Branch of the Australian Dental Association (ADAVB) and metropolitan water retailers, in partnership with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria.
Although the state-wide initiative concluded in 2011, Ian says, Victorian dentists continue to respond postively even as similar awareness campaigns have rolled out throughout the country.
“Perhaps due to the success of DFCW, we have seen a healthy take up rate in Victoria. We have been busy promoting the cause in other states, hoping that we can encourage an equally robust participation.”
While the recent uptake is encouraging and heading in a positive direction, Ian warns against complacency:
“There is still a long way to go before we can confidently say that the majority of Australian dentists have done right by the environment, making sure that we live in a safer environment – now and for generations to come.”
“By responsibly disposing off their amalgam waste, Australian dentists are also safeguarding the health of staff members who currently may be improperly handling the mercury waste.”
The responsible disposal method entails the installation of amalgam separator units and updating suction systems – costing between $600 - $8000, depending on the number of chairs/ surgeries in your set-up. Next is the “collect-and-recycle” phase where the clinic has to arrange the regular collection and recycling of the separator collected amalgam waste.
“It is not an easy task convincing dentists to invest and make a commitment, simply because for many, this is not seen as a priority. It would require a concerted effort by all parties concerned – playing their part as members of the dental family, if you like – to make widespread adoption of proper amalgam disposal methods a reality.”
Meanwhile, the well-documented dangers of mercury exposure and poisoning continue to attract international attention. Closer to home, the Australian parliament has been deliberating over the decision to ratify the Minamata Convention, a multilateral environmental agreement that addresses the adverse effects of mercury. It is named after an infamous incident that occurred in a Japanese town – where thousands of people were poisoned by mercury in the mid-20th century.
Ian believes such discussions will spur policy makers to call for more practical action – with possible trickle down effects on the dental community:
“Whether it be the installation of amalgam separators and/or amalgam recycling, the dental market will gradually address the subject of harmful mercury in the environment. If the Minamata situation is ratified in Federal Parliament, we certainly won’t be hearing the last of it.”