Supermarkets can cooperate in Soft Plastics Taskforce after REDcycle pauses recycling program: ACCC

Major supermarket retailers will form part of a Soft Plastics Taskforce to explore solutions to address the immediate effects of REDcycle suspending its return-to-store soft plastics recovery program, following a conditional ACCC interim authorisation.

Coles, Woolworths and ALDI lodged an urgent application for interim authorisation last week.

On 9 November 2022 REDcycle announced that it was suspending its soft plastics collection program as its recycling partners had temporarily stopped accepting and processing soft plastics. The suspension of the REDcycle program has removed the only established and widespread recycling pathway for consumers and has created significant concerns about existing stockpiles and how consumers can recycle soft plastics going forward.

The scheme has been running in nearly 2000 supermarket outlets across the country, with collection points in Coles and Woolworths supermarkets, and more recently since July this year, ALDI.

“We have moved quickly to approve the interim application as the suspension of the REDcycle program stopped in-store collections of soft plastic, raising community concerns and an urgent need to address the environmental risk of the existing stockpile and future waste,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said.

Under the ACCC’s conditional interim authorisation, the authorised supermarkets can engage in meetings of the Soft Plastics Taskforce, which will consider, and seek to develop and implement, a short-term solution for the storage, transportation, processing, recycling and/or management of soft plastics.

“The application envisages that a longer-term solution to the issue of recycling soft plastics is needed and that the proposed conduct will not detract from or adversely affect the development of longer-term solutions," Commissioner Keogh said.

The ACCC says it may grant an authorisation for any conduct that could otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act (CCA) when it is satisfied that the likely public benefit from the conduct outweighs any likely public detriment.

“This interim authorisation allows co-operation between the major supermarket retailers for a limited period and for the particular purpose of exploring options for the storage, transport, processing, recycling and management of soft plastics to minimise the volume that may end up in landfill, which is of great benefit to us all,” Commissioner Keogh said.

“The ACCC expects the applicants to resolve this situation urgently and has placed a number of reporting conditions on them to ensure we are informed of their progress. This will aid us in determining our final decision on the application, as well as whether the interim authorisation should be revoked.

“Separate to the application for authorisation, the ACCC is engaging with various industry stakeholders and representative bodies to ensure clarity and transparency in communications so as to minimise the risk of consumers being misled by representations about the recycling of soft plastics.”

The ACCC says the interim authorisation will continue until it is revoked, the application for authorisation is withdrawn, or the date the ACCC’s final determination comes into effect, and a public consultation process will begin shortly.

More information is available on the ACCC’s website.