Nick Ouzas writes about how Coles’ recycling campaign diverts Billionth piece of plastic from landfill.
In partnership with REDcycle — a Melbourne-based organisation dedicated to recycling and environmental sustainability — supermarket giant Coles has announced a milestone in its nationwide recycling program with over 1 billion pieces of soft plastic diverted from landfill.
Accompanying its shift into a publicly-owned company in 2018, Coles set its sights on becoming Australia’s most environmentally sustainable supermarket. In that year it became the first national supermarket retailer to have REDcycle bins in all of its outlets for shoppers to deposit soft plastics, the culmination of a partnership with REDcycle that began in 2011.
Chief Property & Export Officer Thinus Keeve, leader of Cole’s sustainability strategy, said: “Our customers have told us recycling is important to them and Coles is proud to support initiatives which help close the loop in recycling and divert waste from landfill.”
These reclaimed materials are then provided to companies such as Replas — Australia’s leading mixed recycled plastic manufacturer — and repurposed into over 200 durable outdoor products.
In early 2020, the Coles Nurture Fund allocated a $430,000 grant to REDcycle to scale up their operations. This capital has enabled the company to finance new processing technology in addition to three new waste collection vehicles. As announced during its sustainability week in June of this year Coles’ program now collects approximately 30 million pieces of plastic on average per month.
To put that number into perspective that’s approximately 121 tonnes of plastic, around the weight of an adult blue whale. Unfortunately the comparison is especially apt as oceanic pollution by soft plastics is a growing threat to marine species worldwide, with whales particularly vulnerable due to their indiscriminate filter feeding. Coles’ program allows soft plastic packaging such as bread, rice and pasta bags to be duly processed, whereas these products typically cannot be recycled by means of most kerbside services.
While recycling of nonperishable plastics is clearly vital, Coles’ approach to sustainability has also been augmented with strategies to lessen the waste of perishable goods. It has also partnered with food rescue organisations SecondBite and Foodbank to reclaim edible products that go unsold and redistribute them to vulnerable Australians.
So far Coles has donated 146 million meals worth of food products to these organisations, a charitable avenue made especially necessary by the recent pandemic. In June, SecondBite published survey results finding that 9 out of 10 of their partnered charities had been impacted by COVID-19, and that over 80% were seeing increased demands for food relief.
In addition, perishable foodstuffs that are no longer fit for consumption by people can be repurposed into animal feed. Coles donated more than 13 million kilograms of unsold fruit, vegetables and bakery products to Australian farmers during the 2019 financial year.
A further initiative, undertaken in tandem with bakery supplier Goodman Fielder, has seen surplus Coles Brand bread reprocessed into breadcrumbs and bread meal for pet food, such as dry canine biscuits. Coles is currently in the process of expanding this program to over 200 outlets nationwide after the success of a small-scale pilot conducted earlier this year.