Business Recycling News

Soft Plastics Update: Major supermarkets agree on a soft plastics recycling road map

By Pamela Jolly 16 March 2023

The soft plastics taskforce, chaired by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) and with member supermarkets Aldi, Coles and Woolworths have released a road map to manage soft plastic recycling.

The Roadmap to Restart is designed as an interim plan to manage the waste stream and restore community access to a robust, viable and transparent recycling process as government investment into recycling capacity comes online.

The roadmap is the result of taskforce discussions that started back in December 2022.  Site visits to recycling facilities and input from stakeholders like REDcycle, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), the Australasian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) and recyclers have informed the group’s assessment of viable options.

Released in early March 2023, the roadmap outlines the taskforce’s objectives to bring a more robust and transparent soft plastics recycling program back online as soon as possible.

Next steps for the taskforce involve validating domestic recycling partners and logistics to transport collected soft plastics for processing.

The plan involves an initial staged return to store, soft plastic recycling in select locations with nearby sorting and recycling partners in late 2023.

Clearing the backlog of stockpiled soft plastic

The roadmap has flagged a dependency on the return of soft plastic collection. Without help from offshore processing to assist in clearing the backlog of around 12,000 tonnes (under investigation and validation) collected by REDcycle, Australia’s current limited domestic waste capacity would be monopolised by processing these existing stockpiles delaying the return of soft plastic collection.

Government investment into nine plastics project operators will increase domestic processing capability for mixed polymers used to make soft plastics. This new capacity is expected to increase domestic processing to around 15,000 tonnes per annum once these projects become fully operational in coming years.

To save stockpiled soft plastics from ending up in landfill the government has said it would support processing offshore despite Australia’s plastic waste export bans

"Ideally, any exported soft plastics would be processed into recycled pellets that can be remanufactured in Australia," said Tanya Plibersek.

Participation from all stakeholders in soft plastic management

Australia’s 2025 National Packaging Targets of 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging and 70% of plastic packaging being recycled or composted will help to reduce plastic waste. However, with these targets yet to be met finding solutions in this interim period and establishing a robust long-term system will be needed to avoid long term stockpiling.

To do this the taskforce has highlighted the need for broader industry participation and financial contributions from brands and online retailers that benefit from the program. The taskforce will be considering funding and governance models in coming months to help assist the roll out of the scheme.

What happened to the REDcycle soft plastic recycling program?

In November 2022 the REDcycle soft plastic recycling program, that saw tonnes of consumer collected soft plastics returned to supermarket stores for recycling, was paused.  REDcycle attributed the pause and eventual liquidation of the organisation’s operation to a 350% increase in soft plastic return and a breakdown in the chain of processing as the system struggled to cope with the influx. Coles and Woolworths have offered to take responsibility for the management of all soft plastics collected and stored by REDcycle.

Positive actions you can take to manage plastic

·      Where possible avoid soft plastics – take your own produce bags, storage containers and shopping bags when buying groceries

·      Look for the Australian Recycling Label to understand how to sort packaging

·      Support organisations that utilise recycled materials and make recycling easy for you. 

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.

Pamela Jolly
Pamela is a Marketing Communications professional with over 10 years experience working for both agencies and organisations in communications, travel, finance and retail industries. Pamela loves to be in nature riding a bike, skiing, appreciating the trees at her local park or exploring wild places abroad with her family.