Last week, on November 9, media announced Australia’s largest soft-plastic recycling service had been suspended at supermarkets.
Growth in Volume
Consumer recycling of soft plastic has grown exponentially in recent years, with a 350% increase in plastic returned since 2019. However, due to challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, the recycling partners responsible for processing of the collected soft plastics have temporarily stopped accepting and processing. This combination of events has put untenable pressure on the whole circular business model.
It feels like another heavy blow to a flurry of climate challenges.
The program has been popular with consumers and has proven to be a success for supermarkets. Consumers are motivated to ‘do the right thing’. Communities are taking positive steps toward behaviour-change which has lasting positive impact on environmental outcomes.
Bean Alliance lobbies the issue
As a proud established Victorian manufacturer, Bean Alliance, have been agitating for decades for a viable recyclable option with coffee freshness at the top of the decision-tree. Up until recently, there were slim pickings. Now, as we introduce a new locally manufactured soft plastic PET (Polyester)/PE, which is recyclable a soft plastic, the current system for processing has let us all down.
This outcome is supremely frustrating as we launch our new range under our global Segafredo brand at Coles Supermarkets this week. From the perspective of your humble coffee roaster, this project has been a long time coming. It is packaging coffee consumers wanted, retail partners required, and we, with a strong DNA in environmental and social responsibility wanted to deliver. However, success is dependent on authentic, capable recycling processes.
The circle is broken
This circular ecosystem is disrupted, partly due to a lack of infrastructure, but the benefits far outweigh any temporary pause or obstacles long the way. There currently stands only one processing plant for soft plastics in the entirety of Victoria. This current state of affairs has exposed the deep inadequacy in lack of infrastructure. Soft plastics are not being processed quickly enough to keep up with demand and are now stockpiling in warehouses, or far worse, being collected by consumers and dumped into landfill by frustrated down-the-line parties.
The infrastructure is out of sync with consumer, manufacturer, and retailer enthusiasm.
So, what happens with the processed plastics?
Processing or “repurposing” soft plastics results in building products used by the construction industry for example, slats for park benches. Some plastics collected are funnelled into roads, bitumen additives for council roads, asphalt and matting in playgrounds.
The recycle, repurpose mission is our mission
Last month, the Victorian Government announced an expansion of kerbside waste collection to include soft plastics, commencing in 2023. The Victorian Government must take responsibility and build the appropriate level of infrastructure to support the current and future volume - build, fund, properly resource. In short, be held to account!
It’s like coffee
Take a sip of your daily brew and think about why we – your coffee roaster – want to write opinion on this…. Coffee is the result of co-dependency between all the parties, the growers, the processors, roasters, packers, logistics, retailers, and cafes, then finally the all-important barista skill.
Recycling simply cannot be the sole responsibility for one party alone. We encourage you to join as a motivated collective and lobby government for improved infrastructure to meet both the future and the current demand. Let us work towards a common goal, an efficient & effective soft plastics recycling scheme for all Australians.