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
New targets within the 2025 plan have been outlined alongside the launch of the Australasian Recycling Label.
The new targets aim to aim to increase the average recycled content within all packaging by 30 per cent and phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through design, innovation or the introduction of alternatives.
Additionally, the targets aim to ensure 70 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled or composted.
These build on the previous announcement of a target to achieve 100 per cent of Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.
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The targets build on commitments made by federal, state and territory environment ministers and the President for the Australian Local Government Association earlier in April this year.
Industry representatives and environmental groups support the targets including Aldi, ALGA, Amcor, Australia Post, Boomerang Alliance, Chep, Close the Loop, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coles, Detmold, Goodman Fielder, Lion, Metcash, Nestlé, Orora, Pact Group, Planet Ark, Redcycle, Simplot, Suez, Tetra Pak, Unilever, Veolia, Visy and Woolworths.
Woolworths General Manager, Quality and Sustainability Alex Holt highlighted the importance of this collaboration.
“We’re really pleased to see such a wide range of industry players come together in support of such a worthy goal. Moving towards a circular economy won’t be easy, but we have the right mix of organisations on board to help make it a reality,” Mr Holt said.
Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price congratulated the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) and the initial working group of businesses that are supporting the targets.
Minister Price has also officially launched the Australasian recycling Label to help achieve the 2025 National Packaging Targets, developed by Planet Ark, PREP Design and APCO to help consumers better understand how to recycle packaging.
“The Australasian Recycling Label provides people with easy to understand recycling information when they need it most, in those few seconds when they are deciding what bin the package goes in. The label removes confusion and reduces waste,” Ms Price said.
With more than 200 recycling labels currently being used in Australia, the new system aims to reduce confusion and contamination in the waste stream.
Nestlé Head of Corporate and External Relations Oceania Margaret Stuart said the inclusion of the label on Netslé’s packaging was a demonstration of the company’s commitment to sustainability.
“More and more people who buy our products want to know how to manage packing waste, so we have committed to implementing the Australasian Recycling Label across all our locally controlled products by 2020,” Ms Stuart said.
Unilever ANZ CEO Clive Stiff has said the announcements are a critical step towards greater collective action on increasing the nationals recycling capability.
“Plastic packaging waste represents an $80 billion loss to the global economy every year. The benefits of the circular economy approach are clear for business and the environment – the more effective use of materials means lower costs and less waste,” Mr Stiff said.
“We are proud to have recently announced that bottles of popular Unilever products like OMO, Dove, Sunsilk, Surf and TRESemmé will soon be made with at least 25% Australian recycled plastic.
“This is just the start for us and no business can create a circular economy in isolation. Heavy lifting is needed from all players involved – suppliers, packaging converters, brand owners, policy makers and retailers, collectors, sorters and recyclers. We need a complete shift in how we think about and use resources.”
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The ABC’s War on Waste will return on Tuesday, July 24, to tackle new targets including plastic water bottles, straws, e-waste and furniture waste.
The series will also explore previous topics such as food waste and the recycling crisis.
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More than 4.3 million viewers watched the original series in 2017, which sparked one of the ABC’s most successful social media campaigns with a video on dumping edible bananas reaching 20 million views.
The series inspired Australians to get involved about waste management, with the Keep Cup crashing and sales rising by 400 per cent after the series, Woolworth and Coles announced lightweight plastic bags in the series, and reusable coffee cup scheme Responsible Cafes went from having 420 cafes to 1050 a week after the broadcast.
Craig Reucassel returns as host and aims to expose the effects of e-waste from discarded laptops, mobile phones and electronic goods in landfill.
ABC ME is also launching a new eight-episode series for children called Project Planet that aims to demonstrate how everyone can make a difference for sustainability.
ABC Director of Entertainment & Specialist David Anderson said War on Waste highlights the ABC’s capacity to spark national conversations and drive community action and social change.
“The distinctively ABC series empowers people to take immediate steps to reduce their consumption of plastic and electronic goods, and wastage of coffee cups and food. Waste is a universal issue, it impacts everyone,” he said.
Coles has announced it will halve food waste across its supermarkets by 2020, make all packaging of Coles Brand products recyclable and reduce plastic wrapping on fruit and vegetables.
The company has pledged to divert 90 per cent of all supermarket waste, including food, cardboard and plastic, from landfill by 2022 and donate the equivalent of 100 million meals to people in need by 2020 by redistributing surplus food.
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The supermarket giant is also planning to begin phasing out the use of single use plastic bags in its stores on 1 July.
Removing double plastic packaging for fruit, selling bunched vegetables like kale and silver beet without plastic and removing plastic packaging from Coles Brand bananas are among the initiatives planned to reduce plastic waste.
Replacing the packaging for meat and poultry products with recycled and renewable materials and replacing single use fresh produce bags with 30 per cent recycled content are also part of Coles commitments.
The company will also provide its customers with an option to recycle soft plastics at every Coles supermarket across Australia, which can be turned into outdoor furniture and road base.
Coles Managing Director John Durkan said Coles wanted to lead the way in its commitment to the environment.
“We know that 69 per cent of customers say that we need to actively reduce waste and landfill through recyclable packaging and find alternative uses for waste,” he said.
“We are delighted to be the only Australian supermarket to sell own brand water bottles that are both 100 per cent recyclable and 100 per cent made from recycled materials. Now we are the first major food retailer in Australia to announce a target to make all of our own brand packaging recyclable by 2020, ahead of the Federal Government’s target of 2025.”
The company also plans to connect every Coles store with Food rescue program SecondBite, meaning surplus edible food from supermarkets will be redistributed to people in need.
Mr Durkan said connecting an additional 130 supermarkets to SecondBite will also divert further waste from landfill.
“By 2020, we want to provide the equivalent of 100 million meals to Australians in need. Since 2011, we’ve donated around 72 million meals to SecondBite and Foodbank so we’ve still got 28 million meals to go.”
Coles has also pledged that it will label all Coles Brand products with recycling information to assist consumers when it comes to disposing of their waste.