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How can you recycle soft plastics in Australia?


Following the collapse of Redcycle's soft plastics recycling scheme, many Australians are now wondering what they can do with their used plastic items.

Redcycle, which operates the bins which were commonplace in Woolworths and Coles stores across the country, "temporarily paused" operations on November 9 due to an unmanageable volume of items being recycled every day.

So with the option to drop soft plastics off at major supermarkets now gone, what should Aussies do with them?

Here's what you need to know.

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Can I still recycle soft plastics in Australia?

Unfortunately, Redcycle is telling people in Australia to simply put soft plastics into regular home garbage bins now its recycling program has been suspended, meaning those items will end up in landfill.

"Please dispose of your soft plastics in landfill, as there will be no recovery from Coles and Woolworths stores at this time," it says on its website.

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There are some much smaller recycling programs out there which you could use instead, although they're not available all around the country.

One such scheme is Curby, which operates in four councils in New South Wales: Central Coast, Willoughby, Mosman and City of Newcastle.

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Can I put them in my home recycling bin?

No. Whatever you do, don't put soft plastics in your regular recycling bin along with other items like glass bottles, cardboard and aluminium cans.

Soft plastics are a bit of a nightmare for the machinery used by councils to sort recycling, often becoming tangled and damaging it.

It is worth checking with your local council to see if they have a soft plastic recycling program, but don't hold your breath – most of Australia's local governments don't have any such scheme.

When will soft plastic recycling bins be back at Woolworths and Coles?

We're not sure – no date has been given by any of Redcycle, Woolworths or Coles for when soft plastic recycling will return in store.

Redcycle said it's hoping to bring its program back "as soon as possible", while both supermarket giants said they are exploring options in the area without committing to a timeframe.

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Woolworths in Marrickville Metro

How much plastic do Australians use?

A lot – more than anyone else in the world, in fact.

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According to research by the Minderoo Foundation, Australia leads the world in plastic use, with an average of 60kg used per person, per year.

Making things worse is the amount that ends up getting reused. For four years, just 16 per cent of plastics in Australia has been recycled.

Different data, this time from the Australian government's National Plastics Plan, the nation goes through 70 billion pieces of soft plastics each and every year – that's almost 3000 pieces per person.

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Is the government doing anything about it?

When Redcycle paused its recycling program, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek was quick to weigh in.

"This is really concerning. Australians want to do their bit and recycle where they can," she wrote on Twitter.

"Big companies like Coles and Woolworths generate a lot of this material, it shouldn't be beyond them to come up with a viable solution. We're happy to work with them to achieve this."

Financial Review 70th Platinum dinner, Tanya Plibersek Deputy Leader of the Labour Party at the Hyatt Regency, Sydney, 9 March 2022. Photo Jessica Hromas

The federal government had previously provided the Australian Food and Grocery Council for it to work on developing more sustainable uses for recycled plastics.

More recently, the government signed up to the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution – an international push to end plastic pollution – and committed to recycling all plastics in the country by 2040.

In October, state and federal ministers also set a number of targets for 2025. These include making packaging 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable, ensuring that 70 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled or composted, and ending unnecessary single-use plastics.

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