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Minimising waste and pollution in Antarctica

Also in Minimising waste and pollution in Antarctica

Minimising waste, preventing pollution, and cleaning up abandoned stations and sites are important parts of BAS’s operations. Our Environment Office is responsible for the safe disposal of waste from its research stations, ships and aircraft. All waste that BAS generates – other than sewage and food waste – is removed from the Antarctic.


Waste disposal

Although the Environmental Protocol permits the discharge of sewage and food waste into the sea, a biological treatment plant at Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula – dramatically reduces the impact of sewage discharged into the sea. An incinerator disposes of food scraps and sludge from the biological treatment plant.

Ships’ sewage undergoes biological treatment before discharge, and food waste is passed through a disposal unit. The ships are equipped with specialist waste disposal equipment – including a shredder, compactor and high-temperature marine incinerator. Other waste is stored on board until it can be disposed of. Oil and oily mixtures are also kept on board when in Antarctic waters, and both ships have oily water separators.

Preventing oil spills

Fuel oil is used to power research stations, ships and aircraft. Major oil spills are rare in the Antarctic, but as human presence in the region increases, so does the risk of a spill.  The largest recorded spill in Antarctica happened in 1989 when the Bahia Paraiso ran aground when it was en route to re-supply one of Argentina’s research stations.  It sank off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula near the USA’s Palmer research station, spilling 600,000 litres of marine diesel into the sea.

Because of the potentially disastrous effects of oil spills on the pristine Antarctic environment, the Antarctic Treaty’s Protocol on Environmental Protection requires all Treaty nations to prepare contingency plans to deal quickly and effectively with environmental emergencies resulting from their Antarctic operations.

To prevent oil spills bulk fuel at BAS research stations is stored in tanks with secondary containment. And, because it is the lightest and least persistent fuel available, BAS uses marine gas oil or AVTUR as the standard fuel on its ships and research stations. BAS carries out oil spill response exercises in Antarctica twice a year at each wintering station and co-ordinates joint oil spill exercises with Antarctic operators from other countries..

An annual Antarctic Oil Pollution Course, directed by BAS, is open to other Antarctic operators. Since it was set up in 1992, has been attended by staff from nine different nations.