Four hundred tonnes of contaminated soft plastics headed for tip in REDcycle fallout

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About 400 tonnes of soft plastics stockpiled in warehouses by Australia’s failed REDcycle scheme will be sent to landfill after they were deemed too contaminated to be recycled.

Another 2300 tonnes of waste will be moved to a recycling facility in Sydney’s west, where they will be stored until a process can be found to recycle the material as part of a rescue plan by supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths.

Thousands of tonnes of plastic bags have been stockpiled in warehouses due to the failure of the REDcycle scheme.

A spokeswoman said the supermarkets were in the process of relocating the waste to Bingo’s Resource Recovery Centre in Orchard Hills, about 50 kilometres west of the Sydney CBD when they discovered the soft plastic at two sites had degraded beyond the point where it could be recycled.

“Unfortunately, we have been left with no choice but to dispose of this soiled material, which represents a small portion of the total stockpile,” she said.

“We know this is disappointing, and it is sadly a consequence of REDcycle’s stockpiling over an extended period.

“We are working with stakeholders across the country to clean this up, and to maximise the amount of the stockpile that can be effectively recycled.”

The waste bound for landfill represents approximately 3.6 per cent of REDcycle’s stockpiles nationwide. Woolworths and Coles are assessing the remaining stockpiles to determine whether they are suitable for recycling.

The supermarkets took responsibility for 32 stockpiles of soft plastics in Victoria, NSW, and South Australia in late February, just one day before the company behind the recycling scheme, RG Programs and Services Pty Ltd, was declared insolvent by the NSW Supreme Court.

Following the handover, stockpiles of plastic were found at 14 other locations nationwide, including for the first time in Tasmania, Queensland, and Western Australia. Footage by Nine News in mid-April showed hundreds of bales of soft plastics in Sydney’s north-west, just one of 19 stockpile sites across NSW.

Coles and Woolworths have since been scrambling to manage the thousands of tonnes of plastic abandoned by REDcycle, including about 5500 pallets of soft plastics stored in seven locations in greater Sydney that are deemed to pose a potential threat to the environment and human health.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has given the supermarkets until May 12 to relocate the high-risk stockpiles to a suitable storage facility.

The supermarkets have previously said the total weight of REDcycle’s stockpiled plastics is 11,000 tonnes – 1400 tonnes lower than initially estimated. The figure was revised down – even after the discovery of the 14 new sites – when detailed site inspections were conducted.

The Soft Plastics Taskforce – which includes Coles, Woolworths and Aldi – estimates it could take Australia’s domestic recycling industry more than a year to process the backlog, despite the total size of the stockpile being lower than first thought.

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