Australia Supermarkets Ordered to Dump More Than 5,000 Tons of Plastics Gathered for Recycling
Supermarkets Woolworths and Coles have been ordered by the New South Wales (NSW) Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to dispose of more than 5,732 tons of recycled soft plastics currently sitting in more than a dozen warehouses across NSW. The concern is that they’re being dangerously stored since the collapse of recycling organization REDcycle — a recycler of soft plastic, plastic bags and other flexible packaging.
Following reports that the materials were piling up rather than being taken to be recycled, in November of last year REDcycle announced it would suspend its collection of plastics at Coles and Woolworths, reported The Guardian.
“These stockpiles are stored from the floor to the ceiling, blocking entryways and preventing adequate ventilation with the soft plastic estimated to fill about three and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools,” said NSW EPA Chief Executive Tony Chappel.
Orders to remove the plastics were issued on January 31 by the NSW EPA, The Guardian reported. It is estimated it will cost $3.5 million to clean up the giant piles of plastics.
The supermarkets have been asked to either reprocess the plastics, export them internationally or bring them to a landfill. It seems a landfill is the only choice since the sheer volume of the plastics stockpile is too much to be reprocessed at home, and other countries aren’t willing to take contaminated soft plastics.
“Thousands of customers diligently collected soft plastics and dropped them into their local supermarket’s collection bin because they trusted their waste would be diverted from landfill and recycled,” Chappel told The Sydney Morning Herald. “The extent of soft-plastic waste sitting in warehouses across NSW is very concerning, and I know customers will be disappointed.”
The EPA was so concerned about the safety of 11 of the 15 locations where the plastics are being stored that they contacted Fire and Rescue NSW and have asked the storage operators to act immediately to reduce the risk.
Woolworths and Coles now have six days to respond to the orders from the EPA.
“Our largest retailers have an important role to play in how we continue to reduce plastic waste and we are committed to working together so we can support opportunities and minimise risk,” Chappel said, as reported by The Guardian.
According to REDcycle in a statement last year, the two recycling companies they relied on weren’t able to accept any more plastics, citing “downturns in market demand” and a factory fire.
“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,” REDcycle said at the time, as The Guardian reported.
REDcycle expressed its intention to continue its plastics recycling program in the future.
“REDcycle remains committed to continuing our important work and in reinstating our soft plastics recycling program. We have been in intensive roundtable discussions with our industry stakeholders and funding partners to explore a range of long-term and sustainable solutions following the halting of the program late last year due to supply chain disruptions,” the company said, as reported by The Guardian.