By Cameron Jewell
21 August 2013 — UPDATED It’s Keep Australia Beautiful week, but the national branch of the 45-year-old organisation has been accused of being captured by industry and not getting behind a national container deposit scheme.
Keep Australia Beautiful kicked off the week with a new “Write your Wrong” public awareness campaign, which encourages people to go online and write things that are as irrational and thoughtless as littering to win $500 or a Hungry Jacks Whopper voucher.
One thing recycling body Boomerang Alliance’s national convenor Jeff Angel thinks is irrational and thoughtless is KAB’s opposition to a national container deposit scheme. Perhaps he’ll win a burger.
“KAB National should get out of bed with the beverage industry and support container deposits as part of an arsenal of tools to combat litter,” he said.
The Boomerang Alliance, which includes 27 environment groups, recently made a Facebook ad critical of KAB National’s actions, saying it was lobbying MPs to reject a national 10-cent container deposit scheme and that it received major funding from Coca Cola, asking readers to draw their own conclusions.
Companies like Coca Cola and Lion have opposed a national container deposit scheme, saying it would be too costly and inefficient.
KAB National took action to have the ad removed, saying it infringed on their trademark.
Mr Angel said the move was “defensive and childish”, and that KAB should answer the allegations rather than censure them.
Cash for container schemes currently exists in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
In SA, there is an 84 per cent recycling rate of beverage containers, the highest in the country, and the Northern Territory scheme has seen a 50 per cent reduction in beverage container litter following its introduction, according to the Boomerang Alliance.
KAB promotes as an alternative an industry-funded national bin network, which will see an increase in recycling bins placed around the country.
The scheme says it aims to increase recycling rates of beverage containers from 52 per cent to 70 per cent over five years.
Keep Australia Beautiful this week said its National Litter Index showed a drop in litter by both item (3.4 per cent) and volume (1.8 per cent) over the past year, and that there was an overall 20 per cent reduction in items and 31 per cent reduction by volume over the past eight years.
The index, which is 50 per cent funded by the National Packaging Covenant Industry Association (32 per cent of whose members are from the food and beverage industry), showed a small increase in litter in the Northern Territory by item, though a reduction in volume, while SA had small reductions in litter items and volume.
Victoria was the national winner, showing a 17 per cent reduction by item and 13 per cent reduction by volume over the past year.
In its submission to the Inquiry into Container Deposit Schemes, KAB Victoria used the index to show that a container deposit scheme would be the most expensive option and not the most effective.
It compared Victoria’s recycling rates in its National Litter Index with South Australia’s, showing there was a downward trend in litter in Victoria but not South Australia.
KAB Victoria chair Kirsty Richards said: “A CDS concentrates on a small part of the packaging stream. Putting a monetary value on something can encourage people to ignore what does not have that extra value – which is the rest of the packaging stream.”
Boomerang Alliance said the index was a flawed measurement.
“Its National Litter Index lacks credibility for some key issues such as comparing between states and actual litter counts,” said Mr Angel. “Our report shows that of the 20 NSW sites we inspected none came close to the so-called average claimed by KAB’s National Litter Index. The Victorian government’s annual litter report also shows much more average litter per site.
“The NLI is suspect as a measure of litter because it can’t tell you if a site has been cleaned up before inspection; gives no picture of behavioural issues; does not examine hot spots; is not adjusted for the different populations in each state; nor can you confidently compare between states.
“Its data has also been misused by the packaging industry and government to give the impression that litter is under control.”
UPDATED 22 August 2013 — In a response posted on The Fifth Estate Facebook page, KAB National said: “We’re interested in practical and holistic action to keep all litter rates reducing and improve our environment… options which only address 10 per cent of the litter stream simply aren’t the best in our view.
“Keep Australia Beautiful would like to clear up some facts regarding the National Litter Index. This research is endorsed by government in every state and territory in Australia. The bigger states have twice as many sites counted as smaller states such as the NT or Tasmania. The NLI is designed to compare states to the national average, not compare state by state.
“No research is perfect, but the NLI is the best Australia has got when it comes to litter. We rely on consistent national research. The sites are anonymous and the same each year so is really the only non-flawed way to run a year on year comparison.
“The NLI states that beverage containers are still littered in South Australia. Victoria, for example, has the lowest litter rate for the second year running, and yet doesn’t have a CDS.
“We have looked at the NLI data with cigarette butts removed, and the numbers of litter in each state don’t change significantly. We count by item, as well as by volume, so saying we treat cigarette butts the same as beverage containers is incorrect.”
Mr Angel said several of KAB National’s independent branches were supportive of a container deposit scheme, and called on the national branch to show support.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific has launched a parody website highlighting Coca-Cola Amatil’s campaign to prevent the national roll out of a cash for containers scheme.