Supermarkets on notice to clean-up soft plastic stockpiles

Australia’s largest supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths have been served by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) with a draft Clean-up Notice to remove more than 5200 tonnes of soft plastic stockpiled at 15 sites across the state.

NSW EPA CEO Tony Chappel said after widely promoting the REDcycle soft plastics collection program to their customers, the retailers have a responsibility to address the stockpiled waste.   

“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,” Mr Chappel said.  

“The extent of soft plastic waste sitting in warehouses across NSW is very concerning and I know customers will be disappointed. 

“As we transition to a circular and net zero economy, supermarkets have a responsibility to customers and the environment to address plastic packaging and take positive actions that contribute to solutions rather than the problem.  

 “These stockpiles are stored from the floor to the ceiling, blocking entry ways and preventing adequate ventilation with the soft plastic estimated to fill about three and a half Olympic sized swimming pools.  

“To protect our communities and environment, these materials need to be removed to reduce the risk of a fire.” 

The EPA has notified Fire and Rescue NSW of the high-risk storage facilities in 11 local government areas and requested the operators of these sites take immediate action to mitigate risks. 

Mr 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.  

“Despite this setback, which is a major blow to consumer confidence, we want to reaffirm our commitment to triple the recycling rate of plastics by 2030. 

“Each year, NSW recycles around 66% of all waste but we know there is more work to do when it comes to plastic waste.  

“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.  

“We are also working closely with our counterparts in other jurisdictions to ensure we take a co-ordinated approach and understand the issues that impacted REDcycle’s collapse.” 

Both supermarkets have six days to comment on the draft notices.  

Through the Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy and NSW Plastics Action Plan, the NSW Government is investing $356 million to develop new markets and infrastructure which will drive a circular economy and address problematic plastics and waste.  

The EPA is currently finalising its $9 million Circular Plastics Program supporting businesses to transform and increase their access to the latest plastic recycling technology. For more information visit the EPA’s website.