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Australian supermarkets suspend film collections

Recycling of plastic film in Australia has been set back by the suspension of a major collection programme operated by leading supermarkets.

REDCycle, part of a Melbourne-based consultancy and recycling organisation, collected ‘soft’ plastics from Woolworths and Coles where shoppers returned more than five million pieces daily.

However, after reports in the Australian media that the scrap was being stockpiled rather recycled, REDCycle said it had ‘regrettably has temporarily paused its soft plastics collection programme’. It added its partners were committed to having the scheme ‘back up and running as soon as possible’.

Companies recycling the plastics delivered by REDCycle have refused to accept any more scrap. An explanation on the organisation’s website adds: ‘Consumer recycling of soft plastic has grown exponentially in recent years, with a 350% increase in plastic returned since 2019. However, due to several unforeseen challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, REDcycle’s recycling partners have temporarily stopped accepting and processing soft plastics. This combination has put untenable pressure on the REDcycle business model.’

Two specific problems are mentioned. In June 2022, Close the Loop, the largest volume off-take partner of REDcycle had a significant fire, resulting in the closure of its Tonerplas facility for an expected six months. Tonerplas uses the film as an additive ingredient for road asphalt.

The other off-take partner, Replas, has experienced ‘significant pandemic-related downturns in market demand’ as well as other challenges including ‘the delayed commercialisation of new products’.

Australia’s environment minister Tanya Plibersek has called on the supermarkets to come up with a viable solution. ‘I expect Coles and Woolworths to step up and indicate how they will deal with soft plastic recycling,’ she was quoted in The Guardian.

In the short term, says RED Cycle, consumers should put their soft plastics in the general waste bin at home.

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