Australia:Industry steps up on soft plastics recycling

The Australian Government has welcomed an offer by Woolworths and Coles to take joint responsibility for the stockpiles of soft plastics that have accumulated as a result of the suspension of REDcycle.

Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek said it was a positive example of retailers taking responsibility for the lifecycle of products that they have sold and shows that the Government’s Soft Plastics Taskforce is making progress.

Woolworths and Coles are taking responsibility for the stockpiles that exist but more work is needed before recycling collection for soft plastics can start again.

REDcycle suspended collections in November 2022. At the time it was Australia’s largest soft plastic collection program, however it faced a series of processing and recycling issues. This was compounded by a fire shutting down its largest recycling facility.

The Victorian Environment Protection Authority has since uncovered 14 warehouses around Victoria and New South Wales where soft plastics have been stockpiled.

Last week EPA Victoria Chief Executive Officer Lee Miezis also welcomed the move by the supermarkets to take control of the stockpiles.

Miezis said the EPA’s priority remains on ensuring the storage of soft plastics does not present a risk to communities and environment.

“Our clear preference is for products in storage to be recycled and reused – as was intended by the community when depositing soft plastics at collection points across the state,” Miezis said.

“We welcome that all options for recycling of the stored materials are being explored to avoid materials being unnecessarily sent to landfill.”

Miezis said the EPA will continue to work with the National Soft Plastics Taskforce, which includes the major supermarkets in seeking a long-term solution for the recycling of soft plastics.

Plibersek said that for most Australians, REDcycle collection points at Coles and Woolworths were the only way to return soft plastics for recycling. Most Australians currently don’t have an alternative option.

REDcycle’s suspension highlighted the importance of having reliable and scalable processing and recycling facilities for materials such as soft plastics.

Plibersek said the government has turbocharged the Recycling Modernisation Fund, budgeting an additional $60 million in October for hard-to-recycle plastics such as soft plastics.

Under the Recycling Modernisation Fund, 48 additional plastic recycling facilities have been funded, and 11 of these have already been delivered.

“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,” Plibersek said.

“Since the suspension 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. This is the kind of positive action and leadership I hoped to see from the supermarkets when I brought them together through the Soft Plastics Taskforce.”

The Soft Plastics Taskforce is due to release a public roadmap soon that will provide information about the steps to reinstate collection systems around the country.

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