One of Australia’s largest recycling programs has stored millions of soft plastics in a secret move that poses a potentially lethal fire risk.
REDcycle, which has donation bins at thousands of Coles and Woolworths stores in Australia, stopped its recycling operations several months ago but continued to collect soft plastics.
The recycling program claims to collect up to five million pieces of plastic every day from supermarkets and other partners, including Australia Post.
REDcycle said it is storing the collected plastic in a warehouse and will continue to do so until it restarts operations.
Soft plastic donation bins will disappear from Woolworths and Coles after their partner, REDcycle, ceased operations (a REDcycle bin at Coles is pictured)
‘REDcycle made the decision to withhold the material on a short-term basis, at great personal expense to the organization,’ he said.
“The REDcycle team has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to find other processing solutions and end markets. New potential opportunities present themselves every day, however, it will take time to put them into practice.”
The green-focused group prevents soft plastic from ending up in landfills or trash by reusing it through outsourced companies that can turn the plastic into additives for asphalt, concrete aggregates and furniture.
Last February, the company lost its partner, Plastic Forests, which made garden planting kits from recycled materials.
But REDcycle’s real problems began five months ago after a fire at Close the Loop, the factory in charge of its operation that turns plastic into an asphalt additive.
Close the Loop CEO Joe Foster said its operations will restart in about six months.
To top it off, last week another of REDcycle’s partners stopped accepting plastic because it is in oversupply.
REDcycle collected 5 million pieces of plastic every day in bins at Coles, Woolworths and several other major retailers (a worker at Coles is pictured)
Melbourne university student Lucinda Moje-O’Brien said she felt ‘betrayed’ that her donations to REDcycle were not repurposed as promised.
“As a consumer, I am taking the time to separate my waste and they are not holding up their end of the bargain,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Coles said he only “recently learned” of REDcycle’s cessation of recycling operations and therefore disposed of his donation bins.
“Due to industry-wide challenges with soft plastic recycling, all REDcycle soft plastic collections from stores will be halted until further notice,” a spokesperson said.
‘This means we will not be able to accept soft plastic recycling returns in Coles stores and via Coles Online at this time.
‘Sustainability is as important to Coles as it is to our customers and partners.
“We are committed to our Together for Zero Waste ambition and are working with government, industry and sustainability partners to find a long-term solution for recycling soft plastics in Australia.”
REDcycle reportedly did not tell Coles or Woolworths that it had stopped recycling soft plastics and instead began storing the donations in a warehouse (a REDcycle bin at Woolworths is pictured)
Woolworths said it was also “newly briefed” on the situation.
“REDcycle advised that it will no longer be able to collect soft plastic returned by customers from our stores, effective immediately,” a spokesperson said.
“Sadly, this means that customers will not be able to recycle their household soft plastic in our stores until collections can resume or an alternative solution is found.
“We are disappointed by this situation. We sincerely apologize to our customers and are working to return access to soft plastic recycling as soon as possible.”
Woolworths said it is now considering working with other recycling companies.
REDcycle said on its website that it is struggling to keep up with the growing number of soft plastic donations.
“Consumer recycling of soft plastic has grown exponentially in recent years, with a 350% increase in returned plastic since 2019,” he said.
“In the short term, consumers are encouraged to dispose of their soft plastics in their household trash bin.”
Many industry experts are concerned that REDcycle’s storage of soft plastics poses a toxic fire hazard or means the waste ends up in a landfill.
Storage of collected plastics at Coles and Woolworths (above) presents a potentially lethal fire risk
A fire at the Kilburn plastics factory (above) in 2020 posed the threat of causing cancer and respiratory and thyroid problems in people and animals.
Director of sustainability organizations Boomerang Alliance and Total Environment Centre, Jeff Angel, said the struggles at REDcycle reflected the “shaky ground” soft plastics operations find themselves on operating in a limited market.
“There is always the concern that plastic bales and bales that someday go into recycling are at risk of catching fire or ending up in a landfill,” he said.
Between 2017 and 2020, several fires were reported at recycling plants with large plastic warehouses in Australia.
The Kilburn plastics factory erupted in a massive fire in November 2020, causing widespread panic over the serious health effects of toxic fumes.
Residents in the region of the fire, which caused $1 million worth of damage, were told to close their windows as toxins from burning plastic are known to cause cancer, as well as respiratory and thyroid problems in people and animals. .
Daily Mail Australia has contacted REDcycle for comment.
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