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Clock ticks for Coles and Woolworths to shift soft plastic stockpile

Stockpiles of soft plastics have been found at 44 sites since the REDcycle program was wound up.

Stockpiles of soft plastics have been found at 44 sites since the REDcycle program was wound up. Photo: AAP

Australia’s major supermarket chains will not receive any more time to move high-risk soft plastic stockpiles from the failed REDcycle recycling scheme after an extension request was denied.

Coles and Woolworths were issued with a draft clean-up notice for 5200 tonnes of plastic stored at 15 sites in New South Wales earlier this year.

NSW Environment Protection Authority CEO Tony Chappel said the retailers have a responsibility to address the “very concerning” extent of stockpiled waste sitting in warehouses across the state.

“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,” he said at the time.

The grocery giants were given 10 weeks to eliminate the potential fire and pollution risk posed by the plastic waste after being served final clean-up notices.

An extension request to move the waste from eight high-risk sites beyond the May 12 deadline has since been denied.

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

The retailers have been granted an extension for the removal of stockpiles at seven sites classified as “low-medium” risk.

NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe welcomed the decision, saying retailers must now work on developing a lawful solution for the materials.

“Once the immediate risks are removed, the government will shift to working with industry on long-term sustainable solutions for plastic packaging,” she said.

Ms Sharpe said she hoped the supermarkets would recycle as much stock as possible.

“Customers were diligent in recycling soft plastic and have been let down,” she said.

The soft plastic recycling program was wound up in November 2022 after it emerged plastics consumers had returned to supermarkets for recycling were instead put into storage.

The retailers involved said they had no knowledge of what was really happening but stockpiles at 44 sites in six states around Australia have since been found.

There are 19 sites in NSW, 15 in Victoria, six in South Australia, two in Tasmania, and one each in Queensland and Western Australia.

Coles and Woolworths gained control of the stockpiles in late February, and have contacted the operators of all 44 sites to make sure the plastic is being stored safely.

The companies are searching for an alternative recycling scheme but warn it could be a slow process, and are looking into shipping waste overseas to free up limited domestic recycling capacity.

-AAP

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