Australia: Taskforce Intends to Restore Soft Plastics Recycling

After the collapse of the countrywide recycling scheme for soft plastic waste from any source suspended in November 2022, a task force is working on a solution.

The Soft Plastics Taskforce, made up of major Australian supermarket retailers Aldi, Coles and Woolworths, has released a roadmap to restart, outlining the steps needed to launch a new supermarket collection scheme. Accoring to the three supermarket retailers in March, the work group has to develop an interim solution to restore community access to soft plastic recycling. Under the current plan, an initial in-store collection pilot was anticipated to launch in select stores in late 2023, provided that the existing soft plastic stockpiles of the previous program could be cleared beforehand. The new program would then be gradually rolled out nationwide next year.

However, there are still obstacles to overcome. “At present, it would not be possible to recycle the volume of household soft plastics collected in a supermarket program using domestic infrastructure,” the information said. “Accordingly, the task force has plotted out the projected gradual increase in Australian soft plastic recycling capacity over the next year, as new operators launch and existing processors expand.” From late 2023, the operational team would “meet the newly available processing capacity with a staged re-introduction of in-store collections so that the volume of incoming household soft plastics does not exceed the amount that can be recycled”.

Restoring public trust in soft plastic recycling is paramount, the information said. The task force would reintroduce soft plastic collection when it can be confident that it will be properly recycled. “We owe it to consumers to get this right. The best way to accelerate nationwide access to soft plastic recycling is through continued investment in recycling facilities to bring forward existing plans to expand domestic capacity.”

Should new domestic processing capacity be taken up by the estimated 12,000 tons of stockpiled material for at least a year, the recommencement of in-store collections would be delayed. “Accordingly, Coles and Woolworths intend to work through options to export the stockpiles to trusted recycling facilities overseas with the necessary transparency, traceability and government approvals. This would allow access to advanced recycling beyond Australia’s existing domestic capabilities.” The task force hopes to engage other retailers, e-commerce platforms and consumer brands that generate soft plastics to contribute to developing the new in-store collection program.

Collection trial
As per the information, the National Plastics Recycling Scheme (NPRS) outlines a new curbside model to collect more household soft plastics. The Australian Food and Grocery Council have developed it with funding support from the Australian Federal Government’s National Product Stewardship Investment Fund. The scheme is based on a model, which would see food and grocery manufacturers pay a levy to support recycling the soft plastics they create. It is currently being trialed in select areas. “The Victorian Government has announced a future state-wide rollout of curbside soft plastic recycling, pending the success of the current NPRS trial.”


The situation
The REDcycle program was suspended in November 2022 after it became known that the company, founded in 2011 as an independent commercial business, had been stockpiling collected soft plastics for an unknown period due to insufficient processing capacity. The collection had included household soft plastic waste from any source (not only supermarkets), grocery packaging, e-commerce parcels and items from a wide range of retailers and FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) brands deposited for recycling. More than 270 consumer brands in Australia had paid the firm to collect the soft plastics deposited for recycling.

Coles made an application to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for urgent authorization on behalf of Coles, Woolworths and Aldi to enable a joint roundtable of supermarkets to collaborate on interim solutions to the suspension of REDcycle’s soft plastic recycling services. The first meeting of the Soft Plastics Taskforce was in early December last year, following an interim authorization from the ACCC the week prior. The Federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water chair meetings.

Regarding the not recycled plastic volumes, Coles and Woolworths have made an offer to REDcycle to take control of its stockpiled soft plastic and provide safe storage of the material while recycling solutions are explored, which was accepted.


(Published in GLOBAL RECYCLING Magazine 2/2023, Page 36, Photo: Landratsamt Kitzingen studio zudem /