Australia has successfully pioneered ways to clean up the frozen waste left at old tip sites in Antarctica.

“On the eve of Clean Up Australia Day it is very satisfying to report that the Australian Government has achieved a significant milestone in the clean up of its territory in Antarctica beginning with Thala Valley near Casey station,” said Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Australian Antarctic Division.

“Australia is leading other Antarctic Treaty nations in cleaning up old tip sites. Thala Valley has now been cleared of all refuse dumped in the years leading up to the mid 1980s, when rubbish disposal practices came under scrutiny.

“Rubbish accumulated when all nations in Antarctica, including Australia, simply threw away old machinery, oil drums and the like in a rubbish tip where it froze, became snow covered and so was left out of sight and out of mind.

“Some of the rubbish was even bulldozed on to sea ice, to sink when the ice melted during the summer. This led to areas of ocean floor littered with junk. Scientists are now studying the effect of this ocean-floor junk on marine life.

“We have learnt a lot in the past 20 years. Australians and other nations took various materials to Antarctica and the onus is on us to bring it back. Australia claims some 42 per cent of the Antarctic continent and we take this responsibility very seriously,” Dr Stone said.

“Australian Antarctic Division scientists, engineers and policy developers have worked hard to devise the safest and most efficient way to clean up Thala Valley. This has been a test site and a crucial first step towards cleaning up all our sites.

“The Australian Antarctic Division’s efforts have been supported by waste management company Collex, who has donated 240 purpose-built containers to return the rubbish to Australia for any treatment and final disposal in a safe and appropriate manner.

“I applaud Collex’s efforts and generosity in providing the containers as well as its waste management expertise. It is a terrific example of what can be achieved in partnership with the Australian Government,” Dr Stone said.

“The Australian Antarctic Division has worked cooperatively with the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) and the Tasmanian Government in a magnificent effort to deal with the rubbish.”

Dr Stone said that the refuse had been returned to Australia for treatment and disposal, and that follow-up inspection of the Thala Valley site had found the clean-up program was a total success.