Councils take up soft plastics slack following REDcycle collapse

Randwick Council in Sydney and Moonee Valley Council in Melbourne are the latest Australian local governments to to take action on soft plastic waste following the collapse of the nation’s biggest soft plastics recycling scheme.

Mayor Dylan Parker outside the Randwick Recycling Centre

Melbourne-based recycling business REDcycle, which had been collecting soft plastics from supermarket chains across the country, suspended the service last year after it was discovered that the plastics were not being recycled.

The operators of REDcycle were last December charged by Victoria’s EPA in relation to the stockpiling of soft plastics at sites in Melbourne and Albury.

Earlier this month, Australia’s largest supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths were served by the NSW EPA with a draft Clean-up Notice to remove more than 5200 tonnes of soft plastic stockpiled at 15 sites across the state.

The demise of the scheme has left residents struggling to find alternative collection services or having to send soft plastics in landfill, causing many councils to take matters into their own hands.

Local solution to national problem

Randwick City Council announced last Thursday it had entered a partnership with Sydney-based recycling and manufacturing company Plasmar, which converts plastics into materials that can substitute for timber, steel and concrete.

Under the arrangement, local residents can drop their soft plastics at Council’s recycling centre where they’re picked up by Plasmar and converted into products including wheel stops, posts and bollards, garden furniture, fences and railings, which are bought back by Council.

Randwick Mayor Dylan Parker said it’s a good example of local government taking the lead and providing a local solution to a national problem.

“When REDcycle stopped collecting soft plastics across the country last year, it created a huge problem and has resulted in increased waste in people’s red bins and more material going to landfill,” he said in a statement.

“I’m very pleased we’ve been able to find a solution.”

Councils queue up

Plasmar’s Managing Director Rose Smithers says there has been a positive community response to Randwick’s announcement.

“We’ve had two pickups so far and our truck has been full each time,” she told Government News.

She says Plasmar has had commercial plastics recycling relationships with local governments in the past, but since the collapse of REDcycle the company has been ‘innundated’ and will be scaling up operations.

Ms Smithers would not say how many councils are currently signed with Plasmar up or what the contracts are worth. However, she says multiple councils are onboard.

“There have been multiple councils, right across the state and interstate,” she said. “There’s a waiting list, put it that way.”

If it’s just a brief foray because they’re under pressure, it doesn’t work. We want long term relationships.

Rose Smithers

However, Ms Smithers says partnerships are paid and invitation only, and interested councils have to demonstrate they are in for the long haul and prepared to be part of a circular economy, which includes buying back products.

“When it comes to what we’ll take, we need to know that they’re genuine,” Ms Smithers says. “About the plastic recycling, about the education of their residents, and that they’re looking for something that’s sustainable.

“If it’s just a brief foray because they’re under pressure, it doesn’t work. We want long term relationships because this is the seed stock for our manufacturing.”

Recycled plastic for roads

Moonee Valley City Councils in Melbourne’s inner north west is also developing its own soft plastics recycling scheme in the wake of the REDcycle collapse.

The initiative, raised at a meeting of Council this week, will see residents able to drop off clear soft plastics at the Moonee Valley Transfer Station, with Council working with recycling partners to to turn it into irrigation pipe, outdoor furniture, slip sheets and builders film.

As a local council, it is on us to step up to the plate, and find a solution to the problem

Cam Nation

Cr Cam Nation, who championed the initiative, says the recent discovery of more REDcycle soft plastic storage sites in Melbourne brings the total amount of hoarded materials in Melbourne’s north and west to 170 tonnes.

“So as a local council, it is on us to step up to the plate, and find a solution to the problem,” he says.

Council is also finalising an in-principle agreement with RMIT University on a demonstration project for the use of recycled plastics in asphalt roads.

Forced to restrict collection

In January, Hornsby Shire Council, which has been working with Plasmar for over a year, was forced by growing demand to restrict the recycling services at its Community Recycling Centre to people in the LGA, who now need to show ID in order to recycle soft plastics, hard plastics and Styrofoam.

Limits of one shopping bag full of soft plastics per week per resident have also been put into place.

Restricting our reception of soft and hard plastics and Styrofoam to residents … is the first lever we have to pull in an effort to ensure that our recycling processes are not overwhelmed

Chris Horsey

“Restricting our reception of soft and hard plastics and Styrofoam to residents of Hornsby Shire is the first lever we have to pull in an effort to ensure that our recycling processes are not overwhelmed,” said Hornsby Shire Council’s Manager, Waste Management Chris Horsey.

Ms Smithers says councils are being forced to take plastic waste more seriously.

“I think people have realised that a collection scheme doesn’t just equal recycling,” she told Government News.

“I think what will happen with councils is they will start to understand that the education of the general public is really important and if they’re going to put in schemes for plastics recycling, it’s got to be sustainable.”

In a statement on its website REDcycle says it is working to get its soft plastics recycling up and running again.

“While the pause of (our) activities in late 2022 was naturally disappointing, we continue to progress discussions with key stakeholders to bring the soft plastics recovery system back online,” it says.

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3 thoughts on “Councils take up soft plastics slack following REDcycle collapse

  1. There is no greater urgency than the incineration of some 10 ktonne/yr of soft plastics generated in Ozz by these evil supermarkets. Get them to fund and operate these incinerators.

  2. Surely there’s contractual relationship between supermarkets and State or Federal govt, so why not suspension their license to operate if they don’t organise soft plastic recycling? Does Local Govt have any agency at all?

    1. Well thought out strategy Bernie, suspend the operation of >1800 supermarkets, many of which are the only local food source for regional and remote communities. Brilliant idea to solve plastic recycling.

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