NSW government’s waste claims dismissed as ‘fiction’ by environmental groups

1

The NSW government is claiming waste recycling rates about twice real levels and is refusing to amend its published data despite being presented with more accurate industry-sourced information, green groups say.

In the latest State of the Environment report, the then Baird government boasted that 62.5 per cent of wasted was recycled in 2012-13. Commercial and industrial waste was “close to achieving” the 2014 recycling target of 63 per cent, it said.

But the Boomerang Alliance of 47 groups across Australia challenged the report, presenting alternative data to the government and the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s board last year.

The performance levels claimed by the government “were little more than a fiction”, with the EPA in the “habit of using unverified and unsourced information to claim success in combating waste”, the report provided to Fairfax Media said. A more realistic overall recycling rate was 36 per cent.

Key errors include understating the amount of waste by 1.3 million tonnes in 2012-13, redefining as recycling almost 1 million tonnes of material used to generate energy or refined for landfill, and using poor sources to underestimate littering by more than a factor of two.

“The government must stop hiding behind dubious figures, just because they look good,” said Jeff Angel, an alliance director who took part in the meetings. “They haven’t tried hard enough to get accurate figures.”

The EPA didn’t refute the alliance’s report nor say whether it would correct official data.

“The EPA always welcomes feedback from stakeholders and the EPA has raised the issue of data collection and consistency with the other states with a view to ensuring robust national data,” a spokeswoman said.


Inquiry and ICAC

Fairfax Media reported earlier this year on widespread illegal dumping, especially of asbestos, while an ABC Four Corners program this month highlighted the scale of waste ending up in landfill.

The EPA referred itself the Independent Commission Against Corruption in the wake of the ABC report.

More probing of the industry’s problems will come from a NSW parliamentary inquiry into energy from waste after Labor led a push to expand its terms of reference.

“The parliamentary inquiry will give us the opportunity to investigate anything,” Penny Sharpe, Labor’s environment spokeswoman, said. It will reopen for new submissions and aims to report by the end of the year.

Mehreen Faruqi, the Greens environment spokeswoman, said the waste system in NSW was “massively broken”.

“The sole environmental priority that the Premier [Gladys Berejiklian] has set for this government is ‘litter reduction’, but we now know that they are totally incapable of even delivering that,” Dr Faruqi said.

Tony Khoury, executive director of the Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW, said the EPA had introduced faulty laws in 2014 that failed to curb the long-distance transport of waste. Some 60,000 tonnes of rubbish are shipped to Queensland each month.

“It’s very important to have the regulations and it’s even more important to enforce them,” Mr Khoury said.

Gabrielle Upton, NSW environment minister, said the government expects to release draft waste regulations for public comment in “coming weeks”. These will include changes to discourage long-haul waste movement.

“A national approach to regulate waste moving between states will also be discussed at a meeting of state environment protection authorities later this year,” she said. “NSW is leading this work.”