Australian retailers publish roadmap to improve soft plastic recycling

Australian retailers publish roadmap to improve soft plastic recycling

Sustainability

The Soft Plastics Taskforce, consisting of major Australian supermarket retailers ALDI, Coles and Woolworths, has published a “Roadmap to Restart” which details the steps required to launch a new soft plastic collection scheme in supermarkets and provides an update on the current state of recycling in the country.

The Taskforce’s objective is to provide a temporary solution to restore access to soft plastic recycling after the suspension of the REDcycle programme.

The initial plan is to pilot an in-store collection programme in select stores by the end of 2023, provided that the existing stockpiles of soft plastic from REDcycle are cleared out first. The programme would then be gradually rolled out nationwide next year. However, the Taskforce faces limitations due to the insufficient domestic capacity to recycle the volume of mixed polymer soft plastics deposited by the public in supermarket collection bins.

To address this issue, the Taskforce has projected a gradual increase in soft plastic recycling capacity in Australia over the next year, as new operators enter the market and existing processors expand. The plan is to reintroduce in-store collections in stages from late 2023, matching the newly available processing capacity to the incoming household soft plastic volume to avoid exceeding the recycling capacity.

The timeline for the in-store collection pilot programme is dependent on the clearance of REDcycle’s existing stockpiles of soft plastic, which Coles and Woolworths now control. If the estimated 12,000 tonnes of stockpiled material takes up the new domestic processing capacity for at least a year, the recommencement of in-store collections will be delayed. In this case, Coles and Woolworths plan to explore options to export the stockpiles to trusted recycling facilities overseas with the necessary transparency, traceability and government approvals to access advanced recycling beyond Australia’s current domestic capabilities.

Plastic-wrapped vegetables credit Jnzl's Photos CC BY 2 0
Plastic-wrapped vegetables © Jnzl's Photos (CC BY 2.0)

The Taskforce aims to engage other retailers, e-commerce platforms and consumer brands that generate soft plastics to contribute to the development of the new in-store collection programme over the coming months. The Taskforce recognises the need for a long-term national soft plastic recycling strategy beyond the interim program, which has the potential to significantly increase the proportion of household soft plastic collected.

The National Plastics Recycling Scheme (NPRS) outlines a new kerbside model to collect more household soft plastics. It has been developed by the Australian Food and Grocery Council with funding support from the Australian Federal Government’s National Product Stewardship Investment Fund and is currently being trialled in select areas. Additionally, the Victorian Government is seeking public input on the proposed inclusion of soft plastics in kerbside recycling bins. The Taskforce supports this move and encourages state and territory governments to do the same to minimise the amount of household soft plastic sent to landfill.

A spokesperson for the Taskforce said: "We recognise that in the long-term, more soft plastic could be diverted from landfill if future schemes are more convenient for consumers and can meet soft plastic at the point where it becomes waste - the household. It is crucial that this opportunity to rethink Australia's future national soft plastic recycling model is not overlooked."

The Taskforce plans to update the public on its progress throughout 2023, and the Roadmap can be accessed through ALDI, Coles or Woolworths websites.

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