Planet Ark are very saddened and share your disappointment with the news that REDcycle has had to cease its soft plastics collection program. As a solutions-focused organisation, Planet Ark aims to provide information for all Australians to take positive action for the environment.
Read on to find out how this situation came about and what you can do in light of it.
How did this happen?
Several market factors, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in REDcycle storing the soft plastics they were collecting. Most significantly, REDcycle’s recycling partners are temporarily unable to accept and process soft plastics due to a number of unforeseen circumstances.
According to a statement from REDcycle, in June 2022, Close the Loop, the largest volume off-take partner of REDcycle, experienced a fire that forced part of their recycling facility to close for reconstruction. Another off-take partner, Replas, suffered “significant pandemic-related downturns in market demand”, along with challenges like the delayed commercialisation of new products.
This led to the unwanted but necessary decision by REDcycle to hold the material in storage in the short term and temporarily pause its soft plastics collection program. Unfortunately, a solution was unable to be found and the scheme has now been ended. Two of REDcycle's supermarket partners recently offered to take back the plastic until it can be “viably processed for recycling”.
No one is more disappointed about this development than REDcycle themselves. REDcycle’s founder Liz Kasell established REDcycle in 2011 due to her own passion for keeping soft plastics out of landfill and for years the REDcycle program has provided a convenient recycling option for soft plastics to the majority of the Australian population. In that time, the program has successfully diverted over five billion pieces of soft plastic from landfill.
The reality is that this is not solely REDcycle’s issue and is related to the lack of end-markets for soft plastics in Australia. It’s also important to note that while REDcycle has ceased collections temporarily, they still plan to find recycling solutions for all soft plastics currently in storage so that none of it will be sent to landfill. There are also several solutions in the pipeline that should create better opportunities for soft plastics soon.
What should Australians do with their soft plastics?
Reduce and reuse: Considering this unfortunate situation, now is a great time to cut back on unnecessary plastic and use reusable packaging options wherever possible. The waste hierarchy illustrates that avoiding or reducing our use of materials is the best means of preventing waste, while reusing and repurposing materials follows closely behind.
Put soft plastics in general waste: For the time being, Australians are encouraged to dispose of any unavoidable soft plastics in their home rubbish bin to be sent to landfill. It’s very important not to put soft plastics in your kerbside recycling service instead (unless your council has specifically made this option available in your area). Soft plastics in the recycling bin causes contamination and can result in other recyclables not getting recycled.
Keep recycling other materials: Planet Ark also recommends looking at other actions you can take to reduce waste and improve recycling at home, work and school. Planet Ark’s research for National Recycling Week this year shows that about 10% of the average home rubbish bin is actually recyclable and about 40% is organic content that could be composted at home, through Food Organics Garden Organics (FOGO) services or by another means (such as community gardens). Taking action on getting these materials out of your waste bin and therefore avoiding sending it to landfill could have a massive impact on your environmental footprint, while supporting Australia’s domestic recycling industry.
Collaborating for positive outcomes
Soft plastics waste is a problem for all of us. While this news is disappointing it does highlight the need for additional support to be provided to the end-of-life processing of soft plastics and other packaging formats across all levels of government and industry.
Finding a solution requires the collaboration of manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, government and individuals. For Australia to transition to a circular economy will require systemic change and the largest collaboration effort that we’ve ever undertaken. Planet Ark hopes this unfortunate development will ultimately provide the impetus to turn this challenge into an opportunity and find an ongoing solution for soft plastics recycling in Australia.