The Packaging Council, the industry body that co-ordinates big-company policy on throwaway packaging, has been accused of stepping in to stop a Government-funded contract being awarded to a company that had criticised it.
Environmental consultant Envision New Zealand wants compensation after it lost a significant chunk of its work for the year, allegedly because of council interference.
Envision - whose reports have sometimes been at odds with the industry body's view that voluntary targets are the best way to cut packaging - was negotiating an 18-month contract with an economic development trust, Enterprising Manukau.
Envision would have studied waste made in the manufacturing process by food and drink companies as part of a project to reduce organic waste to landfill. It missed out after council chief executive Paul Curtis visited Enterprising Manukau in September.
Enterprising Manukau chief executive Gaelle Deighton said Mr Curtis left her with the impression large food and drink manufacturers, who were also council members, would pull out if Envision was involved.
"Many of his members are sitting on our control group," she said.
The project could not go ahead without waste information from the large processing companies. "He was saying we needed to use a consulting company that was acceptable to the Packaging Council."
Council members include Amcor, Cerebos, Coca-cola Amatil, Sanitarium and Bluebird. A council spokeswoman said Enterprising Manukau and council members were free to make their own decisions on what to do about the food waste project.
Mr Curtis approached members in his role as their adviser and told them Envision's approach did not fit with the council's stand against compulsory waste rules, she said.
He also went to Enterprising Manukau and expressed members' concerns.
Ms Deighton wrote to Envision in October explaining the trust could not enter a contract with it because the council had said it would advise its members not to take part.
Ms Deighton said she chose Envision through a tender process and worked with it on an unpaid basis for about nine months before part-funding from the Ministry for the Environment was received. She found it "extremely professional and very good."
Envision director Warren Snow wants compensation for the lost contract - which he estimates cost $60,000-$100,000, including work the company turned down.
In January, council president Mark Brosnan expressed "regret" about the incident in a letter to Envision.
But the council denies any financial liability and says Mr Curtis was acting as an advocate for its members.
The Ministry for the Environment has paid the council $110,000 a year for the past five years to administer the New Zealand Packaging Accord. The agreement finishes this year and the ministry said it would not be renewed.