Australia’s two major supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, were issued a draft notice by the state authorities on Friday, asking them to clean up over 5,200 tonnes of soft plastic waste.
The draft Clean-up Notice, issued by the New South Wales (NSW) Environment Protection Authority (EPA), urged the supermarket chains to remove over 5,200 tonnes of soft plastic stockpiled at 15 sites across the state, which were collected after the two supermarkets widely promote the REDcycle soft plastics collection program to their customers, reports Xinhua news agency.
“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,” said NSW EPA CEO Tony Chappel.
He added that the extent of the soft plastic waste sitting in warehouses across NSW is very concerning, and those materials need to be removed to reduce the risk of a fire.
The EPA also notified Fire and Rescue NSW of the high-risk storage facilities in 11 local government areas and requested the operators of these sites to take immediate action to mitigate risks.
Both supermarkets have six days to comment on the draft notices.
The REDcycle, initiated by a Melbourne-based organisation, RED Group, partnered with Coles and Woolworths, and some other Australian brands, was aimed to help reduce the amount of plastic packaging going to landfill.
However, the program temporarily paused its soft plastics collection from November 9, 2022.
According to a report by local newspaper Sydney Morning Herald, the removal and disposal of the stockpiled soft plastic is expected to cost the supermarket chains at least A$3.5 million.
Sydney Morning Herald said the EPA gave the supermarkets three options: to dispose of the waste in landfill; to export it internationally; or to reprocess the plastic.
However, no country will accept the import of contaminated soft plastics and there is no facility anywhere in Australia capable of recycling the quantity of soft plastics stored by REDcycle.
Chappel said these materials, once bound for recycling may unfortunately end up in landfill but the regulatory action had to be taken to protect NSW communities.
“We are also working closely with our counterparts in other jurisdictions to ensure we take a coordinated approach and understand the issues that impacted REDcycle’s collapse.”