Woolworths and Coles could soon take on responsibility for more than 12,000 tonnes of stockpiled soft plastic that are potentially a threat to the environment and human health.
The major supermarkets have offered to take control of the plastics from failed recycling program REDcycle to “provide safe storage of the material while recycling solutions are explored”.
REDcycle has yet to respond to the offer by the major retailers.
The thousands of tonnes of plastic are kept in 32 stockpiles across NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
With a “limited” soft plastic recycling capacity in Australia and the potential that some material will no longer be suitable for recycling, it’s possible parts of the stockpile could go to landfill.
“To date, the supermarkets have not been given access to the stockpiled material. They will need to assess whether any of the soft plastic has degraded to an extent where it is no longer suitable for reprocessing,” a spokesperson for both companies said.
“Coles and Woolworths will work to recycle as much of the material they are given as possible.”
The offer does not include a monetary offer for the plastics and is not an attempt to purchase the failed program by Woolworths or Coles.
Both supermarkets will contribute to a “multimillion-dollar” fund to store and manage the stockpiled material.
“The Fund is intended to address the existing REDcycle stockpiles while industry and government continue to work on long-term future soft plastics waste solutions,” the spokesperson said.
Woolworths Group chief executive Brad Banducci said Australians had been let down by the failed REDcycle scheme.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Coles chief operations and sustainability officer Matt Swindells said the major retailers had paid $20 million to REDcycle over the past decade, with the program collecting about 150 million plastic items from nearly 2000 supermarkets across the country each month.
The program was suspended in November, with hundreds of millions of plastic bags then sent to landfill in the wake of its collapse.
REDcycle has been contacted for comment.
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