Waste Management Review explores the retail sector’s engagement with Return and Earn and the role of corporate responsibility in shaping positive recycling outcomes.
More than 6.5 million pieces of soft plastic will be recycled in the largest-ever commercial application of Polyrok as part of a Coles supermarket development at Cobblebank in Melbourne’s west.
Cleanaway and Coles have launched a depackaging unit in Brisbane to convert food waste into nutrient-rich compost, the first of its kind in Queensland.
Coles has partnered with Victorian recycling organisations RED Group and Replas to install a concrete slab carpark made partly out of recycled soft plastics.
Coles will source more than 90 per cent of its Queensland electricity requirements from CleanCo, after entering into a landmark 10-year agreement with the state-owned clean energy generator and retailer.
Australian supermarket giant Coles has reached a milestone of one billion pieces of soft plastics recycled through its partnership with REDcycle, a recovery initiative for post-consumer soft plastic.
Coles has taken a step toward being Australia’s most sustainable supermarket, due to its commitments to continue reducing packaging and food waste as well as greenhouse emissions.
On World Environment Day on June 5, the supermarket giant announced its been one year since it unveiled Coles is driving generational sustainability part of the Group’s transformation strategy.
To date, Coles customers and team members have recycled 997 million pieces of soft plastic through REDCycle and donated grocery essentials to the retail value of $7.9 million to vulnerable Australians during COVID-19.
Chief Property and Export Officer Thinus Keeve, who leads Coles’ sustainability strategy, said the Group’s efforts have been due to over 115,000 team members serving more than 20 million customers every week, who “have a material impact on our ability to implement sustainable practices in the communities in which we operate”.
“Whether it’s making a donation at the checkout to SecondBite or dropping off soft plastics at a Coles REDCycle bin, each one of our customers are helping achieve our mission to become the most sustainable supermarket in Australia,” Keeve said.
Over the past 12 months Coles has made further progress on its commitments to increase the proportion of energy it sources from renewables and implement more sustainable processes across its stores.
“By using energy more efficiently and investing in renewable energy projects, we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by more than 35 per cent since 2009, including a six per cent reduction in the 2019 financial year alone,” Keeve said.
Coles has installed solar panels on 38 supermarkets since June 2019, increasing the total number of on-site solar electricity generation facilities to 68, while construction has also commenced on three new solar power plants based in regional New South Wales, from which Coles will purchase the equivalent of 10 per cent of its national electricity consumption.
In the past two months Coles has also opened two of its most sustainable supermarkets with Coles Local in Melbourne’s Hawthorn and Sydney’s Rose Bay.
Coles said that these stores feature team member uniforms made from 65 per cent recycled bottles, trolleys made partly from recycled plastic and free reclaimed customer carry boxes as an alternative to bags.
Coles stated it plans to roll these sustainability initiatives to more of its stores over the coming months.
Coles has partnered with Cleanaway to recover energy from difficult to divert waste streams, at the Cleanaway ResourceCo Recovery Facility in New South Wales.
The partnership forms part of Coles’ zero waste to landfill supermarket trail, which aims to alter in-store processes, put greater focus on source separation and treat waste as a resource.
Coles Chief Property and Export Officer Thinus Keeve said the trial would help Coles find new ways to reduce waste in stores.
“Waste management is a key component of the sustainability of any business, and reducing waste is a very important issue for our customers,” Mr Keeve said.
“Everyone knows Australia has challenges in how we deal with our waste. That goes for everyone from households sorting their recycling to businesses like Coles. We all have a responsibility to play our part.”
Mr Keeve said that by working with Cleanaway, Coles will be able to recover residual dry waste such as mixed plastic and timber, which historically has been difficult to divert from landfill.
“The Cleanaway ResourceCo Recovery facility uses dry waste to produce Process Engineered Fuel (PEF), which is then used to offset the demands of heavy industry for fossil fuels,” Mr Keeve said.
Cleanaway Solid Waste Services New South Wales Regional Manager Alex Hatherley said the process will provide a solution for Coles stores that produce high volumes of mixed back-of-house plastics.
“Our facility is unique in its ability to divert commercial dry waste from landfill, recover recyclable materials and then convert the remaining combustibles to a sustainable fuel source, PEF,” Mr Hatherley said.
Food charity SecondBite has received a $500,000 grant from the Coles Nurture Fund, facilitating the purchase of four new refrigerated trucks.
The grant follows a new five-year agreement between Coles and SecondBite that will increase food collections from Coles’ metropolitan supermarkets from three to five days a week.
The trucks will collect unsold, edible food in bulk from Coles’ distribution centres and redistribute it to charities.
Coles CEO Steven Cain said food donations to SecondBite rose 25 per cent in 2018-19, with Coles expecting those volumes to increase further this year.
“We have an opportunity and responsibility to help fight hunger in Australia by donating our unsold, edible food to people who are vulnerable and facing tough times,” Mr Cain said.
“Everyone deserves to have regular meals and our SecondBite partnership is one of the ways in which we hope to sustainably feed Australians to lead healthier, happier lives.”
Coles diverted 36,392 tonnes of food waste from landfill in 2018-19 through donations to food charities, farmers for animal feed and to be recycled for compost, organic waste and energy.
SecondBite CEO Jim Mullan said the new trucks would allow SecondBite to significantly increase the volume and range of food that could be delivered to charities.
“These trucks – each with a 4.5 tonne capacity and space for eight pallets of food – will make a huge difference to SecondBite’s efficiencies,” Mr Mullan said.
“Rather than making several trips in a van, we will now be able to collect bulk amounts of stock in a single visit.”
According to Mr Mullan, the trucks will also allow SecondBite to transport a greater variety of stock.
“Historically we have been largely confined to collecting fruit and vegetables from Coles distribution centres, but the new refrigerated trucks allow bulk collections of yoghurts, cheese, butter, milk, juice, and other high-risk foods, as well as frozen products.”
Queensland’s Product Responsibility Organisation, Container Exchange, has selected recycling company Envirobank Recycling as the network provider of container refund points for the Queensland Government’s Container Refund Scheme (CRS).
Envirobank will provide a minimum of 48 collection points along the Queensland coast across Cairns, Townsville, Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
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Collection points will include Coles supermarket locations, community collection points with not for profit partners such as Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) and three large-scale automated depots for bulk processing of large quantities for businesses and community groups.
The Queensland CRS launches on 1 November 2018 and aims to reduce beverage container litter across the state.
Drink containers are the second most commonly littered item in the state, with around 2.4 billion generated annually even though the majority of the containers can be recycled.
A 10 cent refund is provided for each eligible container that is returned to a collection point, with payment made through cash, retail vouchers or digital payments such as Scheme ID or a PayPal account.
Container Exchange Acting Chair Alby Taylor said the criteria for selecting operators was an extensive process designed to meet customer needs.
“Our tender process generated a lot of interest from both small and large operators and in the end, it came down to ensuring we provided the best service to the Queensland public,” Mr Taylor said.
“We have listened to the feedback from other states and in Queensland you will see a lot more mobile collections to ensure we can get to as many people as possible wanting a refund.
“We will have depot sites as well as bag drop options in many communities, with many operations benefiting local community groups and charities,’ he said.
Envirobank Founder and Managing Director Narelle Anderson said her goal is to make collecting refunds easy for the public, so they can be rewarded for their recycling efforts.
“We are always dreaming up new ways to ensure people not only get convenient access to the scheme, but also choose the way they want to get their refunds,” said Ms Anderson.
“Envirobank has been a long-term network operator in the Northern Territory Scheme and it’s evident the program is much more than a litter reduction initiative.
“With the right partnerships in place the Scheme has the potential to raise substantial funds for many charities that deliver the vital services we need in our communities.”
Coles Queensland General Manager Jerry Farrell said the partnership was in line with the retailer’s sustainability commitments to improve recycling and reduce waste sent to landfill.
“Coles has made a public commitment to crush waste and reduce landfill, and our partnership with Envirobank in Queensland is a great opportunity for us to work with our customers to stop empty plastic containers ending up on the streets, our waterways or in landfill,” Mr Farrell said.
The scheme offers charities, community groups and not for profits a way of fundraising by setting up donation sites.
SLSQ CEO John Brennan said the partnership with Envirobank will help maximise the benefits for volunteer surf lifesavers.
“We are thrilled that the Container Refund Scheme is coming to Queensland and, by partnering with Envirobank, it means that each of our 58 clubs right up and down the Queensland coastline will have the opportunity to benefit financially,” Mr Brennan said.
“Every valid container put in a donation point at one of our clubs is a new stream of income that will be re-invested straight back into their lifesaving work in their local community.”
Image: Narelle Anderson