Supermarkets step up to manage soft plastic waste as REDcycle winds up

Coles and Woolworths have stepped up and offered REDcycle to take control of its stockpiled soft plastic and provide safe storage of the material while recycling solutions are explored.

REDcycle accepted this offer ahead of being wound up by order of the NSW Supreme Court on 27 February.

Following a Soft Plastics Taskforce meeting, the supermarkets extended the offer to REDcycle to help prevent soft plastics deposited by customers being unnecessarily sent to landfill. 

The offer comes ahead of the release of a roadmap prepared by the Soft Plastics Taskforce, which is due to be published in the coming weeks. 

“Australia’s soft plastic recycling capacity is limited, exacerbated by recent processing disruptions. While local recycling capacity is projected to increase over the next 18 months as facilities re-open or are newly established, there is still more to be done by industry and government to grow domestic soft plastic recycling capabilities,” a joint statement by Coles and Woolworths mentioned.

This opportunity will see the supermarkets implement an interim strategy, such as safely storing material until it can be viably processed for recycling. Coles and Woolworths intend to work with the relevant state environment protection agencies (EPAs) to ensure their proposed storage arrangements meet the necessary safety requirements until the material can be processed. 

The storage and management of the stockpiled material would be paid for from a Soft Plastics Recycling Contribution Fund to which Coles and Woolworths will each provide an initial multi-million-dollar contribution.

The supermarkets welcome contributions from brand and packaging members of the REDcycle program, whose products have been collected by the scheme. The Fund is intended to address the existing REDcycle stockpiles while industry and government continue to work on long-term future soft plastics waste solutions.

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said, “We know Australians have been let down. We were very disappointed to learn that REDcycle hasn’t been recycling the soft plastics they collected from our stores, and we are working to make it right.

“Coles and Woolworths have taken this step to provide reassurance to the public that the soft plastics they took the effort to deposit in REDcycle’s bins won’t be unnecessarily sent to landfill.

“We know this may take some time. We hope REDcycle will allow us to help get the best outcome for the environment, and restore community trust in our recycling systems.”

Coles chief operations and sustainability officer Matt Swindells said this is the best environmental outcomes for the stockpiles and their customers. 

“Our aim is to continue to work with governments and industry to find workable solutions to soft plastic recycling in Australia so our customers can resume the good work they’ve done over the past decade, in sorting their soft plastic and knowing that it will be recycled,” he said.

“Collectively Coles and Woolworths have paid more than $20 million to REDcycle over the last decade to ensure this would happen, and we remain deeply disappointed by the unrecycled stockpiles.”

Coles and Woolworths have been in constructive discussions with the EPAs around the safe management of REDcycle’s stockpiles. The agencies have evaluated the safety risk of several stockpiles.

This assessment is based on potential fire risk arising from the way the material has been stored by REDcycle, and the suitability of the storage facility. 

Minister for the environment and water Tanya Plibersek said Woolworths and Coles taking responsibility for the stockpiles that exist is a positive example that shows the Government’s Soft Plastics Taskforce is making progress. 

“Australians went to great effort to sort and take their plastics back to supermarkets to ensure they were recycled by REDcycle. I am determined to ensure that this effort was not in vain, and that they can be confident their plastics won’t go to landfill,” she said.

“Since the collapse of REDcycle thousands of people have contacted me, devastated to see their red bins fill up with soft plastics – knowing they are destined for landfill.  

“The announcement from Woolworths and Coles to responsibly manage the stockpiles is a big step forward. It will mean a lot to all the Australians who took the time to return their plastics for recycling – their efforts have not gone to waste.”

REDcycle released a statement saying, “We welcome the support and collaboration by Woolworths and Coles announced in recent days. We similarly welcome Minister Plibersek’s foray into the space and the obvious passion she brings to the cause.

“We are heartened by the new focus brought about by REDcycle’s challenges. We ask that as this focus is transitioned to actionable steps, that not only the largest players are engaged, but the pioneers and innovators like REDcycle, Curbcycle, APR, SaveBoard have a seat at the table.

“Not out of entitlement, but because the experience is rich, there is much work to be done and we know how to roll up our sleeves.”

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