An argument has broken out over recycling efforts in Australia's packaging sector, including allegations that official figures understate use of plastic packaging and overstate its recycling rate.
At a meeting in Adelaide of federal and state environment ministers, the Sydney-based Total Environment Centre questioned whether figures cited in the National Packaging Covenant accurately reflect recycling rates.
But the Melbourne-based Packaging Council of Australia stood by the figures and dismissed TEC's claims.
NPC, a voluntary industry/ government charter designed to encourage practices to reduce the environmental impact of packaging, was launched in 1999. A second, five-year covenant expires in 2010.
Environment ministers will decide at a meeting in June whether to draft a third NPC.
A TEC analysis suggests more packaging is consumed and less is recycled than presented in the NPC.
TEC Executive Director Jeff Angel said NPC claims 9.36 billion pounds of packaging was consumed in Australia in 2006-07, with 5.22 billion pounds being recycled.
Angel said TEC's analysis shows consumption is closer to 10.7 billion pounds with 5.18 billion pounds recycled, a rate of 48 percent, not 56 percent as claimed in the NPC.
He said the difference includes a ``conservative estimate'' of more than 320 million pounds of packaging used in imported goods and 440 million pounds in other types of packaging not currently measured by the covenant, such as some fruit juice boxes, plastic/foil chip packets and some pharmaceutical and cosmetics packaging.
In the case of plastics, TEC points specifically to wrapping and blister packing on electronics or hardware items, sports drinks and shelf-ready grocery goods imported from Southeast Asia that it said escape NPC's data net.
TEC also claims that, among individual packaging types including paper, glass, aluminum and steel, its data on plastic packaging shows the greatest variance from NPC figures.
NPC said more than 1.3 billion pounds of plastic packaging was consumed in Australia in 2006-07 and more than 392 million poundswas recycled, a rate of 31 percent.
But the TEC analysis shows a ``true'' recycling rate of about 20 percent, based on consumption of almost 1.7 billion pounds. That is 35 percent more than listed in the NPC with about 356 million pounds recycled, about 10 percent less than the official figure.
PCA Chief Executive Officer Gavin Williams rejected the TEC analysis and stood by the covenant figures. He said NPC data has been independently audited.
``I have absolutely no doubt that considerable effort has been made to ensure the figures are an accurate representation of where we stand on recycling,'' he said.
Williams said it is still possible to reach NPC's stated target of a 65 percent recycling rate by 2010. But he warned that the global financial crisis will make it harder to reach that goal, since it will affect prices for recycled materials and financing arrangements for industry operators.