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Soft Plastic Recycling Update

*last update July 2024 

Soft plastic bag on green background


Soft plastic, an overview 

According to Clean Up Australia's most recent Litter Report, soft plastic pieces such as plastic bags, bread bags, cling film, confectionary wrappers and fresh and frozen produce bags, are the most common item found in litter. In addition to that, the amount of soft plastic collected has increased compared to the year before due to increased use by consumers and a lack of current facilities and programs to collect.  


To tackle our national soft plastics problem, The National Plastics Recycling Scheme (NPRS) is currently being developed by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC). This initiative aims to introduce a new kerbside collection model specifically designed for household soft plastics. At the same time, we see initiatives led by the private sector to reduce the amount of soft plastic being sent to landfill.  


Kerbside collection pilots

Soft plastics are a very common household item, and as of June 2024 NPRS is currently conducting at-home and kerbside recycling pilots across various councils based on a successful trial.


The main challenge faced when trying to introduce soft plastic collection in the kerbside recycling system is that loose soft plastic tends to get caught in the machinery at sorting facilities.


Households in pilot areas are given specific orange bags to collect select single-use soft plastics. Bags are then disposed of in their bins. Bins are collected and taken to local material recovery facilities as usual, where the orange bags will be extracted and sent for sorting and processing.


The aim of the pilot is to help design the model for collection and sorting, as well as improve partnerships with recycling facilities, with the aim of scaling up for an advanced recycling industry.


Current participating councils

  • Macedon Ranges Shire Council

  • Albury and Wodonga councils

  • Alpine Shire Council

  • Indigo Shire Council

  • Ballarat City Council

  • Yarra City Council

  • City of Adelaide

  • City of Charles Sturt

  • City of Port Adelaide Enfield


Soft Plastics Taskforce recycling trials (drop-off only)

As of 7 February 2024, soft plastic recycling collections are being trialed in Victoria. This soft plastic recycling trial was developed by the Soft Plastics Taskforce members (Coles, Woolworths and Aldi) and will run in 12 participating supermarkets. Customers are encouraged to deposit their household soft plastics in the collection bins located at the front of these stores during the trial period.


Coles: Northcote, Ivanhoe, Brunswick, Moonee Ponds, Flemington

Woolworths: Balwyn, Box Hill, Burwood Brickworks, Carnegie North, Hawthorn East

ALDI: Prahran, St Kilda


What’s being done with the plastics collected?

The soft plastic collected will be delivered to recycling partners who will then sort, weigh and process the soft plastics into a variety of products. Depending on the recycler, the collected plastics could be either mechanically or chemically recycled.


Advanced chemical recycling will break the plastic down into oil that can be used to make food-grade soft plastic packaging. This reduces the amount of virgin material used and creates a circular soft plastics supply chain.


Mechanical recycling, on the other hand, would turn the soft plastics into orange bags, garbage bags, fence posts, a material for making shopping trolleys and baskets, asphalt, and concrete additives.


Have they been successful?

Trials and pilots are important to understand whether a new large scale soft plastics collection system could be successful and the ability of soft plastic recyclers to cope with demand levels. There are currently only a limited number of soft plastic recyclers in Australia, some of whom are still in the process of scaling up their operations and are testing their capacity.


As of this moment, it is too early to tell if they are successful and whether the initiative will roll out nationwide. While we are hopeful, the best method to reduce soft plastics being sent to landfill is still to avoid using them wherever possible.


How do you know if you can recycle your soft plastics?

The best way to understand how to dispose of packaging material responsibly is to refer to the ARL (Australasian Recycling Label) on the packaging. You want to be looking out for soft plastic packaging with the ‘check locally’, ‘return to store’ or ‘drop off’ labels on the packaging. Learn more about what each label means here.


ARL Drop off icon

When you see a check locally sign, you should check with your local council or on arl.org.au which will tell you if there is a collection point near you. 


Please also ensure that only clean, soft plastics are placed into the bin. Other materials (e.g., paper shopping bags, hard plastic, nappies) may contaminate the collection and make it difficult for the soft plastics recyclers/processor to process the material. In addition, contaminated soft plastics may also result in some other material surrounding these items being sent to landfill. 


Where do I recycle my soft plastics?

There are two website which will locate your nearest soft plastic recycling location.


Tips on navigating the arl.org.au and recyclemate.com.au

These websites are designed to assist you with recycling correctly at home. However, if there are alternative disposal options, you can simply scroll on the page to find more disposal options!



Recycle mate tips


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