Coles and Woolworths offer to take on REDcycle plastic stockpile

As the parent company behind REDcycle was ordered into liquidation this week, Coles and Woolworths join forces to save thousands of tonnes of soft plastic from landfill.

The two supermarkets have offered to safely store the soft plastic accumulated since REDcycle halted operations in November 2022, while appropriate recycling solutions are explored. 

REDcycle is yet to respond to the offer, but representatives from both supermarkets said they’re committed to finding the best possible solution that satisfies both customer expectations and their environmental responsibilities. 

“We know Australians have been let down. We were very disappointed to learn that REDcycle hasn’t been recycling the soft plastics they collected from our stores, and we are working to make it right,” said Brad Brad Banducci, Chief Executive Officer of Woolworths Group. 

“Coles and Woolworths have taken this step to provide reassurance to the public that the soft plastics they took the effort to deposit in REDcycle’s bins won’t be unnecessarily sent to landfill.

“We know this may take some time. We hope REDcycle will allow us to help get the best outcome for the environment and restore community trust in our recycling systems,” said Banducci. 

Matt Swindells, Chief Operations and Sustainability Officer at Coles, said both retailers would continue to work with the government and industry to find a solution. 

“Our aim is to continue to work with governments and industry to find workable solutions to soft plastic recycling in Australia so our customers can resume the good work they’ve done over the past decade, in sorting their soft plastic and knowing that it will be recycled.

“Collectively, Coles and Woolworths have paid more than $20 million to REDcycle over the last decade to ensure this would happen, and we remain deeply disappointed by the unrecycled stockpiles,” he said. 

The announcement from Coles and Woolworths comes after the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated a previously issued clean-up notice to the retailers following feedback from the initial notice. 

Tony Chappel, Chief Executive Officer of the NSW EPA, said he welcomed the cooperation of both Coles and Woolworths to address the issue and find a collective solution. 

“We welcome the decision by both retailers to prioritise the safety of NSW communities and take responsibility for the REDcycle stockpiles in NSW.

“Our revised notice requires the removal of soft plastics from their current location to an appropriate site within seven weeks to ensure we reduce the risk of fire. 

“One of the interim options in the notice is to temporarily store the materials inside sealed shipping containers at a lawful facility,” said Chappel. 

Following the interim measures, the revised clean-up notice gives the supermarkets 12 months to develop a lawful solution to dispose of the waste, whether that be recycling, exporting or sending it to landfill as a last resort. 

The Australian Government also welcomed the announcement from Coles and Woolworths. Tanya Plibersek, the Minister for the Environment and Water, said the offer to take joint responsibility for the soft plastic waste was a big step forward. 

“Since the collapse 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. 

“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. I thank them for their efforts,” said Plibersek. 

Plibersek said the Soft Plastics Taskforce would release a public roadmap this week, providing information about the steps needed to reinstate a nationwide collection system for soft plastics. 

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