Supermarkets vs. Soft Plastics: What’s Happening In the REDCycle Recycling Saga?

Hey, remember last year when the REDcycle program collapsed? For not doing their job of recycling our soft plastic stuff? And instead of doing that, they kept thousands upon thousands of plastic bags in some warehouses? Warehouses that were horrifying fire hazards? 

Yeah, that issue hasn’t been solved.

In February of 2023, Coles and Woolworths were ordered to landfill over 5,200 tonnes of NSW’s warehoused soft plastics. What’s more, it’s believed that finishing this task will cost around $3.5 million

“The extent of soft plastic waste sitting in warehouses across NSW is very concerning, and I know customers will be disappointed,” said Tony Chappel, the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s CEO.

“These stockpiles are stored from the floor to the ceiling, blocking entryways and preventing adequate ventilation with the soft plastic estimated to fill about three-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools.”

Now, it’s worth noting that this issue isn’t limited to NSW. Our other states and territories also have a tonne of soft plastics to recycle. 

However, Coles, Woolworths, and ALDI have now joined forces to tackle this problem. They have even released a joint plan of attack called the Roadmap to Restart.

In late 2023, a supermarket taskforce will launch a pilot programme for recycling our soft plastic items. This pilot programme will only be available in some select stores. Additionally, this plan will be pushed back if Coles, Woolworths, and ALDI still have too much REDcycle waste deal with. 

But, if this pilot programme does go ahead and is successful, a nationwide recycling programme will be gradually put into place. This might take a while though, as Australia currently doesn’t have enough machines that can recycle soft plastic antics. 

A spokesperson for this taskforce said, “For the vast majority of Australian households, the only avenue to recycle their soft plastic waste has been through the REDcycle bins available at Coles and Woolworths supermarkets.” 

“Restoring public trust in soft plastic recycling is paramount, and the Taskforce will reintroduce soft plastic collections when it can be confident that it will be properly recycled. We owe it to consumers to get this right.”

So, what’s the Federal Government’s take on this roadmap? Whelp, they are pretty darn stoked. 

As Tanya Plibersek, Australia’s Environment Minister, said “The Albanese Labor Government welcomes the announcement today by Coles and Woolworths of a path forward to resume soft plastics collection.”

“The reality is that we have a plastics problem in Australia. We need to produce less, use less, and better reuse what we have. To tackle it takes government support, but it is also the responsibility of industry to step up.”

Yet, not everyone is chuffed with this plan. Take for instance Jeff Angel, the Executive Director at the Total Environment Centre. 

“The road map reveals what a big con the plastic industry and supermarket’s recycling statements have been in recent years,” said Angel. “Now they can’t even restart collections at the end of the year at the scale of the small REDcycle scheme.”

“I don’t think the community trusts the supermarkets and packaging sector to get it right on their own.”

Related: How to Educate Your Kids on Recycling Effectively

Related: Your Ultimate Guide to Understanding Every Recycling Symbol Used

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.