In-store plastic recycling programs to continue at major supermarkets

The nation’s biggest supermarkets have been granted conditional authorisation to continue in-store soft plastics recycling operations following the suspension of the now defunct REDcycle program.

The announcement was made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on Friday, permitting the ongoing collaboration between Coles, Woolworths and Aldi to manage the soft plastics stockpile.

The Melbourne-based REDcycle program was the only of its kind, launching return-to-store soft plastics recovery points over 2000 Coles and Woolworths supermarkets in 2011.

After suspending operations in November 2022, it was revealed REDcycle had been secretly storing hundreds of millions of bags and other soft plastic in warehouses, instead of recycling them.

At least 44 sites were identified as soft plastics stockpiling locations across the country, presenting potential environmental and safety hazards.

REDcycle’s closure effectively removed Australian consumers’ only established recycling pathway for items such as food packaging, plastic bags and cling wrap.

The ACCC granted interim authorisation to the supermarkets to resume recycling after both retailers announced the suspension of their programs in the wake of REDcycle’s 2022 announcement.

On February 26, Woolworths and Coles took on responsibility for the stockpiled soft plastic, believed to be more than 12,000 tonnes in size.

The next day REDcycle was declared insolvent and a liquidator was appointed.

ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said Friday’s announcement would allow the major retailers to resume in-store collections under the program while ensuring transparency.

“We believe this conditional authorisation is in the public interest, reflecting public concern about the stockpiling of soft plastics and the need to divert soft plastics from landfill and inform consumers about the resumption of in-store collections,” he said.

In May, the major supermarkets failed to meet a deadline to relocate 2500 tonnes of soft plastics from sites in NSW that the state’s Environment Protection Authority deemed as “high-risk”.

More than 250 truckloads and around 5000 pallets were used to move the soft plastics to the Bingo Resource Recovery Centre in Orchard Hills, though some material had degraded past the point of recycling.

As a result, more than 400 tonnes, or 3.6 per cent of the national stockpile, was taken to the tip.

Friday’s announcement follows the release of a road map by the Soft Plastics Taskforce on March 7, outlining a pathway to the resumption of in-store collection.

The ACCC subsequently issued a draft determination proposing the 12-month authorisation on March 30.

Originally published as Supermarkets given green light to continue bungled in-store recycling operations

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