REDcycle soft plastic recycling collapse

Coles, Woolworths recycling scheme collapses after secret stockpiles revealed

Australia’s largest plastic bag recycling program has collapsed amid revelations hundreds of millions of bags and other soft plastic items dropped off by customers at Coles and Woolworths are being secretly stockpiled in warehouses and not recycled.

Instead of being taken to companies that use the plastic to make other items, REDcycle has been transporting the plastic to warehouses for long-term storage in what some experts consider a potential environmental and fire safety risk.


Just read about this in Crikey. I guess its back to trash, with plastics. Coles supplies Better Bags which I dutifully send back with the next grocery delivery…. Might swtch all my shopping to Woolies instead, at least you can choose to have paper bags instead.


Possibly not yet, wait for advice from RedCycle/Waste Management and Resource Recovery Industry. Collected materials are currently being warehoused with a hope to find alternative uses to those which have ceased/temporarily ceased operations. While warehousing isn’t an optimum solution, it does provide the opportunity for the materials to be recycled at a later date.

One should continue current recycling practices until such time, if it occurs, RedCycle/WMRR industry advise to cease placing soft plastics in their collection bins.

Irrespective of what announcements occur in the future, good waste management practice in the home is to try and avoid soft plastics where possible. This assists in reducing the amounts of materials needed to be handled and processed by the WMRR industry.

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We’ve been told the Coles Better Bags (which aren’t.IMO) are to be trashed. I have a few plastic woolies bags too. I think I’ll store them somewhere Until…


Yes, Redcycle has come out saying their collection program is suspended until further notice. Hopefully the businesses which received the collected materials for reprocessing come back on line as well as new ones established so the program can be reinstated quickly.


Worth checking this out? Its available in Newcastle ad the Central Coast but I have no idea what the go is for other locations.


What a brilliant and simple idea @SueW.
It does rely on individuals taking personal responsibility. But so do most other waste recycling initiatives. Except for the more traditional and lazy Aussie style of chucking it all in one bin to make it someone else’s problem. Of course our approach also suits the automated low labour intensive road side collection out LGA’s and Governments favour.

“Curby It” reminds me of our very first time in rented accomodation in Japan. There were multiple waste bags/bins under the bench in the kitchen area. The primary responsibility for correctly separating waste was very personal. Looking outside personal responsibility extended to where and how each different type of waste was placed. The collection services were aligned to those collection needs. It’s stating the obvious that Australian’s exist in a very different environment and have some significant cultural differences.

Why would our roadside pickup’s not be able to handle multiple different bags of waste? The more we can place in special purpose waste sorted bags the less we need the over sized waste and yellow bins.

Given the significant response of Aussies to recycling 10c containers, will free Curby points also be a big attraction and help to change the culture?


Not currently available. It is only available to those two local government areas. It also requires households in these LGAs to obtain special bags and tags to allow recycling through the yellow top bin. I can’t find where the iQrenew materials go to after sorting and whether their collections face the same challenges as the Redcycle collection stream.

On ABC NewsRadio this morning there was an interesting story on Australia’s reliance on a small number of businesses to reprocess soft plastics. When there are issues with ability to reprocess soft plastics, like that which currently exists, the recycling scheme quickly falls over. There was discussion that Australia has gone from one solution (exporting materials) to another one solution (limited recycling opportunities). The comment was made it is expected soft plastic recycling at previous capacity should return in six month. It was suggested that one should minimise soft plastic use, look for alternatives and reuse materials to the maximum practical extent now and into the future.


Did they also size the problem?


  1. How many tonnes of soft plastics does Australia consume each year, (import plus local production)?
  2. What is the current production of soft plastic products used for and where does it go to?
  3. What proportion of those products and of the total production goes onto each household, and from which sources?
  4. Are consumers really the cause of the greater problem?

I’ve an impression, be it fact or a poor assumption that in many instances the consumer is the soft target. Calling out the consumer is only correct where we have control over the product. If it does not come into our hands all the discussion does is victimise consumers. The real villains are the industries and businesses who cause the problem in the first place. They may also be the biggest users of many products that include soft plastics, and other wastes that are currently landfill.

Is it now time for all levels of government to step up and legislate so that businesses change how they use soft plastics. It’s great to see what two councils are behind. Sometimes governments need to lead and risk unpopular decisions.


Yeah like: If you sell something packaged in plastic, you are legally required to take the packaging back. It becomes the seller’s problem, which ultimately creates back-pressure within the supply chain, and hopefully reduces use of soft plastics at source and/or creates incentive to recycle at source.

I don’t know though. Easy to say this from one’s armchair. :wink:


At some point we, are all going to have to be responsible for all recycling. Seems just as bad as how we, were sending all plastics to China and they were refusing to accept it. Surely someone’s got an idea to create a full industry here. I hope it can get sorted out to continue collecting reusable items.


The other aspect is willing to seek and use materials which are recycled. There is still a large number of consumers which prefer virgin materials thinking that they have an intrinsic value higher than recycled materials. Until this changes, the demand for virgin materials will outcompete the ability to find a home for recycled (content) materials.


Yes true. Same with paper products. Recently have purchased recycled toilet paper quality seems quite good. Kleenex brand is dreadful quality ot falls apart. It seems it has, to be worthwhile as you say to enable change lpng term.


You might want to reconsider that wording. :rofl:

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From the very start, REDcycle didn’t have enough customers for their products (park benches, picnic tables etc.). So that’s the other end of the equation.

Programs like REDcycle make it easier for we consumers to turn a blind eye to our over-consumption of goods and blase attitude to packaging. Out of sight, out of mind. All must be well.

Now we have to retake responsibility.

  • Take reusable F&V bags to the supermarket.
  • Shop at places that offer unpackaged goods (bulk food shops for example) and take our own reusable bags and containers.
  • Take our own containers to the butcher’s shop, the deli, and possibly other places too.

That seems to be the fundamental problem with plastics. The demand for recycled plastic products is nowhere near what is needed to establish a viable industry.

You can turn them into road filler, or garden things, or outdoor furniture, but you can’t turn them back into what they were originally used for.

Unlike paper, or most glass, or metals.


Federal government responding to REDcycle collapse:


Responding? By 2040? More like kicking the can down the road. :wink:

I don’t disagree with the vibe of what you are saying but there are aspects that realistically we as consumers don’t control. Let’s say that I want to buy 1 kg of rice. It comes packaged in a soft-plastic bag that I would previously have returned to the supermarket on a subsequent visit to put in the REDcycle bin.

Can I actually take my own container into a store and get it filled with 1 kg of rice? Maybe somewhere. Most likely nowhere near me. Can we wind the clock back 70 years because that’s how they might have done things in 1950? Probably not. I would prefer we work with what we have.

One difficulty is that the supermarket model has eliminated most of those 1950s style corner stores. The government could in theory make it impossible to buy these goods at the supermarket, which would create the demand for these old stores to spring up again. Or the government could try to create change within the supermarket, which in turn mostly goes back to the suppliers.

Why can’t the company who packages the rice in the first place take the packaging back and turn it back into new packaging? What if they were legally compelled to?

Why can’t the company who packages the rice in the first place use a packaging material that doesn’t have this problem? What if they were legally compelled to?

Obviously there are global issues here that no one government can fully address. My rice may or may not come from Australia but let’s assume that it does not - because that is the more difficult case.


It is a bit of a catch 22. They had enough customers for the materials they were collecting, but when a number of customers ceased taking materials - having a fire in one of they main receivers of the soft plastics as well as loss of one or two other contracts (such as Forest Plastics). This resulted in 3 companies which usually accepted the soft plastics ceasing to do so. RedCycle thought from information they were given that flow of materials would return in the immediate future and hence started stockpiling materials to cover the gap where inflow of the soft plastics exceeded their outflows.

While it would have been terrific for more companies to be on their books, with a collection of 7000 tonnes of soft plastics each year this was unlikely to be feasible nor sustainable. More companies would have reduced the ability of these companies accepting such materials to expand or look into other use of the materials as the volume of soft plastics were constrained.

To fix a constrained problem would require more materials such as encouraging higher use of soft plastics in packaging which would flow onto higher recycling volumes…through to accepting imported soft plastic wastes from other countries. None of the solutions to overcome the constraint would have driven a good environmental outcome.

What it might do is place further pressure on reducing soft plastic use. This may have positive benefits into the future.


Now if they could turn them into pothole fillers, that actually stayed in the potholes then I think someone would be onto a winner!

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