Redcycle: What does the future of soft-plastics recycling look like?

It was widely publicised in November 2022, that Redcycle, the program we’d all come to rely upon heavily to recycle soft plastics at outlets like Coles and Woolworths supermarkets, was wound up after it emerged that tonnes of plastics consumers had returned to supermarkets had been put into storage instead of being recycled. Following the end of Recycle, we look at the future of soft plastics recycling.

It was widely publicised in November 2022, that Redcycle, the program we’d all come to rely upon heavily to recycle soft plastics at outlets like Coles and Woolworths supermarkets, was wound up after it emerged that tonnes of plastics consumers had returned to supermarkets had been put into storage instead of being recycled.

Over time, more stockpiles of plastics (in the tonnes) were uncovered and it’s now clear that there wasn’t enough local capacity to absorb the amount of soft plastics that Australians were recycling.

What will happen with soft plastics recycling in the future?

In early 2023, the ACCC provided a 12-month authorisation to the supermarkets to work together on the recycling problem. In February 2023, Coles and Woolworths gained control of the stockpiles and from there formed a taskforce with Aldi to design a new national scheme to replace RedCycle. But this isn’t looking like it will be a quick process. In a report last month, the taskforce said a pilot for a restart of in-store plastics collection was being targeted for late 2023.

But with the shortage of local capacity to process the plastics (a key driving factor that led to the end of Redcycle), and the lengthy-process of securing additional projects to build more capacity beyond pilot projects, realistically the new scheme may not completely roll out until 2024 or 2025.

In the meantime, what can we do?

We should reduce use of soft plastics wherever possible, however the reality is that it’s very hard to stop using soft plastics altogether. There are some great alternative programs to Redcycle that, while more local and smaller-scale, are doing some really good work in this space. Here are some of them worth checking out:

Reground

Reground is a social enterprise that runs a waste collection service for soft plastics among other things, working with a local recycling partner in Victoria to turn the plastics back into oil, the material that forms the base for plastics. How it works is that businesses sign up as a partner of Reground, pay a fee, and the Reground provide bags for soft plastic materials. They’re then collected at a frequency that matches the volume.

TerraCycle

Terracycle specialises in recycling hard-to-recycle plastics, including brand name plastics for companies like Colgate, Gillette and Mecca. For soft plastics, TerraCycle runs two programs that can help recycle certain types of soft plastics: Glad recycling, which accepts all brands of cling wrap, snack, sandwich and freezer bags, and the Royal Canin and Open Farm pet food bag recycling. Businesses can also work with Terracycle to collect specific types of plastics by securing a Zero Waste Box which is collected by TerraCycle once full.

Curby It

Curby operates in areas of New South Wales and now, South Australia. Founded by CurbCycle, the programs operate within select council areas to collect soft plastics through household recycling. As of early 2023, this is limited to a few councils in New South Wales (namely Central Coast Council, Newcastle City Council, and Tamworth Regional Council). In addition, trial programs are currently active within Adelaide City Council and City of Port Adelaide Enfield.

In summary, the future of soft plastics recycling isn’t completely straightforward, and that’s because recycling is a complex matter. We’ll be keeping this blog updated as more progress is made in this space, so stay tuned. Got a question on any of this? Reach out to us!

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