There could be the equivalent of as many as nine million passenger car tyres at the Stawell tyre dump.

A site near Stawell in Victoria is estimated to contain the equivalent of 9 million passenger car tyres or more. Photo: Boomerang Alliance

Australia's tyre industry is split over the best way to tackle the problem of discarded tyres, with a new federal government stewardship plan getting only lukewarm support from some of the largest retailers and environmental groups.

Federal Environment minister Greg Hunt on Monday launched the voluntary Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) scheme to improve the handling of the estimated 48 million tyres disposed of each year. The majority of the tyres are exported, or end up in landfills or illegal dumps that frequently catch fire belching toxic fumes.

Firms signing up to the stewardship will pay 25 cents a tyre to fund research into uses for discarded tyres. The money will also be used to develop new markets for recycled product.

The TSA is backed by the Australian Tyre Industry Council which includes importers such as Goodyear Dunlop, Michelin, Pirelli and Yokohama.

But several of the group's members, have been singled out by the Boomerang Alliance - a network of 27 environmental groups - for failing to require member outlets and those of franchisees use only accredited recyclers for used tyres.

Bridgestone, Australia's largest retailer, is not a member of ATIC and insists all discarded tyres go to recyclers who are members of the Australian Tyre Recyclers Association. Bob Jane, Jax Quickfit and Kmart Tyre and Auto also are yet to back the stewardship program.

"Normally a voluntary scheme has the guys who want to perform best in it," Jeff Angel, national convener of the Boomerang Alliance said. "It's the reverse in this situation." Mr Angel said those backing the stewardship had resisted tighter controls on used-tyre disposal because it was cheaper to use "rogue operators".

He said the release of the stewardship plan appeared to be premature, with details of accreditation still to be worked out.

'Hollow' claims

Secretary of the Tyre Industry Council, Silvio de Denaro, rejected demands that retailers use only accredited recyclers as "extremely hollow" since many of the tyres simply get exported unprocessed.

"In this market, there are not sufficient users of the output of so-called reputable recyclers," Mr de Denaro said.

Firms not signing up to the stewardship "are hiding behind the excuse, 'I'm doing the right thing, and I don't want to know any more', when, in fact, their solution is at best inadequate" he said.

Tyre Recyclers Association chief executive officer Robert Kelman, said retailers choosing his group's members "can be assured of legal compliance".

"Unfortunately, there remain large retailers and importers that continue to use cheap, dodgy and unlicensed operators," he said.

NSW crackdown

Bridgestone Australia managing director Andrew Moffatt said the company welcomed the stewardship plan but needed to resolve some "administrative issues" before signing on.

Mr Moffatt said the company hoped other states and the federal government would follow the lead of the O'Farrell government in NSW to establish tough standards nationally.

In recent months hundreds of retailers in NSW have been inspected and their handling of used tyres audited. The state plans to cut the number of used tyres that can be stockpiled without full permits to 500 from the present 5000.

"There's no doubt that the inconsistency between states has been one of our issues in the past," Mr Moffatt said.