• Fri. Mar 24th, 2023

Coles and Woolworths continue promoting soft plastic recycling

ByGurinderbir Singh

Feb 22, 2023

Questions have been raised over whether Coles and Woolworths should still be promoting a now-defunct soft plastic recycling program despite its controversial collapse last year.

Plastic packaging for a wide range of products in both retailers still informs customers they can bring the plastic back to a store for it to be recycled.

Fresh items branded as Coles’ own display the false message that its plastic wrap is “100 per cent recyclable through your local Coles”.

Meanwhile in Woolworths, plastic packaging features an Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) logo and the directive that customers can return plastic film to a store.

One shopper on Sunday uploaded a photo of a pack of Coles Imperfect Mangoes to social media, complaining that it had been “over three months since the collapse of REDcycle and Coles is still promoting unnecessary packaging as recyclable”.

While some felt continuing to use packaging with a false statement was “greenwashing” – a tactic involving unsubstantiated claims being used to deceive consumers into believing a company’s products are environmentally friendly – others disagreed.

“There’s probably a warehouse full of the unused wrappers. What did you want them to do? Throw them out because REDcycling got cancelled?” one responded.

“Just leftover packaging probably. Not everything’s a conspiracy mate,” another said.

A Coles spokesperson confirmed the retailer was continuing to use packaging produced prior to the downfall of REDcycle.

“To avoid significant volumes of additional unnecessary waste going directly to landfill, as well as impose undue costs, Coles Own Brand suppliers are continuing to use packaging designed and printed prior to the collapse of the REDcycle program,” they said in a statement to news.com.au.

“We have informed our customers through various channels that the REDcycle program is no longer operating. We are working with industry and governments to help find a solution to soft plastics recycling in Australia.”

Coles said customers were told they could no longer recycle soft plastic in a notice posted to the retailer’s website, as well as through statements issued to media and messaging distributed by the Soft Plastics Taskforce.

They were not however informed via any of the supermarket’s social media channels, where more than a million followers follow the retailer.

A small “customer notice” at the front of Coles stores states that items “which contain recycling guidance” are “unable to be returned to store for recycling and there may not be processing facilities available to recycle them”.

“We apologise for any inconvenience and remain committed to reducing waste and seeking a sustainable alternative solution,” the notice said.

Outside Woolworths there is a similar notice that, in bold, states “the soft plastics collection service is no longer available in store”.

Later in the notice customers are told the retailer is “disappointed by this situation and sincerely apologises to our customers for the inconvenience”.

“We are working through a range of options with industry and stakeholders to support the future of soft plastics recycling.”

A Woolworths spokesperson told news.com.au it was “well known the REDcycle program is currently paused”.

They said the packaging for products was printed months in advance and discarding it all would be wasteful.

What happened to REDcycle?

It was revealed late last year that tonnes of soft plastic waste had been piling up in warehouses and not getting recycled into furniture, playground equipment, garden edging, wheel stops, materials for walkways in parks, roads or bollards as the company had claimed.

The Melbourne-based company was founded in 2011 and had drop-off points at almost 2000 Coles and Woolworths stores across the country.

For several months before its eventual collapse however, the waste getting collected but not being recycled.

REDcycle said consumer recycling of soft plastic had grown “exponentially” in recent years, with a 350 per cent increase since 2019.

“However, due to several unforeseen challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, REDcycle’s recycling partners have temporarily stopped accepting and processing soft plastics,” the company said in November.

“This combination has put untenable pressure on the REDcycle business model.”

In June 2022, Close the Loop, the largest volume offtake partner of REDcycle, had a “significant” fire that shut their facility for reconstruction.

Another offtake partner, Replas, suffered “significant pandemic-related downturns in market demand”, along with challenges like the delayed commercialisation of new products.

REDcycle said it had to then take the “unwanted but necessary decision” to hold donated plastic in storage at “great personal expense” to the company.

Read related topics:Woolworths

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