Onsite wastewater

On this page:

Current certificates of approval (until 1 July 2016) are listed on Onsite wastewater systems.

Onsite wastewater management systems (commonly known as septic tanks) are used on residential, community and business premises. They treat, then recycle or dispose of:

  • greywater, which comes from showers, baths, hand basins, washing machines, laundry troughs and kitchens
  • blackwater, which is toilet waste (from water-flush, incineration or dry composting systems)
  • sewage, which is combined greywater and blackwater.

These include only sites that produce flows under 5000 litres a day. Systems that handle, or are designed to handle, higher flow rates need an EPA works approval.

Onsite wastewater treatment systems must perform effectively and be well managed to minimise risks to public health and the environment. The requirements on them depend on the source of the wastewater, site constraints, treatment method and the quality of effluent needed for the end uses of the treated water:

  • Wastewater treated to primary quality is only suitable for disposal below ground via soil absorption trenches, mounds and evapo-transpiration beds or trenches.
  • Wastewater treated to secondary quality can also be dispersed to land via pressure-compensating subsurface irrigation.
  • Greywater treated to advanced-secondary quality can be used in the home for flushing toilets and in washing machines. It can also be used for surface and subsurface irrigation.

Regulatory framework for onsite wastewater systems

The Environment Protection Act 1970 (EPA Act) sets out the approval process for onsite wastewater systems with flow rates less than 5000 L/day:

  • Local government issues a ‘permit to install/alter and use’ for individual treatment systems. To do so, the council will base its decision on the proposed treatment system and the lodged land capability assessment (if applicable).
    The council will also consider the proposed end use (indoors and/or outdoors) for the treated effluent.
  • The council must refuse to issue a ‘permit to install/alter’ if the system type is not approved by EPA.

In the past, EPA issued certificates of approval (CAs) to manufacturers for brands and models of systems that could be installed in Victoria.

EPA is reforming the way it administers the onsite wastewater program and we have informed all stakeholders in the sector that we are doing this. We intend to remove the need for individual treatment systems to hold a CA. Instead, we will approve only types of systems, as required by the EP Act.

Approval process from 1 July 2016

From 1 July 2016 EPA will define and approve system type in line with Australian Standards 1546.1 to 1546.4. The four approved types will be:

  • AS 1546.1 – Septic tanks
  • AS 1546.2 – Waterless composting toilets
  • AS 1546.3 – Aerated wastewater treatment systems
  • AS 1546.4 – Domestic greywater treatment systems (note that this standard is not yet ratified)

Treatment system brands and models will need to be certified by an accredited conformity assessment body (CAB) as conforming to the relevant AS. This accreditation is given by JAS-ANZ (the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand). As part of a permit application to a council, the applicant will need to include a copy of the certificate of conformity from a CAB.

Vermiculture systems will be certified against AS 1546.1 and dry composting toilets against AS 1546.2.

For greywater treatment systems – for which AS 1546.4 is yet to be ratified – EPA will nominate the relevant interim requirements.

EPA will also nominate the interim standards for sand filters. They will be included in a technical annex to Guidelines for environmental management: code of practice – onsite wastewater management (publication 891).

EPA will collate certificates of conformity and ensure they have been certified to the relevant standards. We will also publish a list of valid certificate holders against each treatment system type.

As EPA will no longer duplicate the role of certification bodies, this reform reduces the regulatory burden on manufacturers and councils.

Transition process

  1. Existing approved systems (individual treatment system brands and models of a type approved by EPA) will remain valid until 1 July 2016.
  2. Existing approved systems will be required to have a current certificate of conformity with the relevant AS from a CAB by 1 July 2016. We will write to all existing CA holders advising them of this requirement.
  3. New applications will follow the reformed approval process – they will get their certification of conformity with the relevant AS from an accredited CAB.
  4. All approved systems (existing and new) will be transitioned to the reformed approval process by 1 July 2016. We will then remove all reference to CAs from this web page. We will maintain a list of valid certificate holders against each treatment system type.

Guidance on onsite wastewater management

Page last updated on 22 Apr 2016