We recently spoke to Elizabeth Kasell the founder of REDcycle to talk us through what REDcycle is and how it’s making a positive difference to recycling in Australia.

  1. In very simple terms, can you explain what is the purpose of the REDcycle program and what are its origins?

REDcycle was conceived in 2011 by Elizabeth Kasell, a mum with a young child who couldn’t quite work out why she wasn’t able to put her soft plastics in her council recycling bin.  It was, after all, plastic, right?  Upon investigation she learnt about the differences in recycling rigid plastics (milk bottles etc) and soft plastics, and discovered there was no existing programmes to recycle the flexible soft plastics.  Liz determined that prior to even considering a system to collect this material, she had to establish somewhere for it to go for it to be truly recycled.  So was borne the partnership with Replas.  After securing a Sustainability Victoria grant, Liz commenced a schools based programme initially.  REDcycling became so popular so quickly that Liz needed to find a way to give more people easier access to recycling their soft plastics, and Coles answered the call.  From humble beginnings, you can now find a REDcycle bin in every Coles and Woolworths store – over 1900 locations – Australia wide.  We have now diverted over 14,351 tonnes of soft plastic from landfill.  Australians are now returning over 4 million pieces of soft plastic to a REDcycle bin every single day. 

  1. We are constantly asked as a business for eco-friendly packaging, in your opinion are there any advantages that soft plastic packaging may have over things such as biodegradable or compostable packaging?

Interesting question.  All have their place, there’s no doubt.  I guess the main thing with biodegradable or compostable packaging is that it’s not always commercially biodegradable or compostable, meaning that it won’t degrade well in landfill if people don’t put it in their compost bins at home (and not everyone is able to compost) or their council green waste bins.  But if people are active composters, or use their green waste bins correctly, these are a good option.  And those plastics aren’t necessarily always suitable for a range of products either.  I guess the other issue can be that some people don’t necessarily pay attention to whether or not the packaging is biodegradable etc, and may unwittingly be placing normal soft plastics in the green waste bins.  For example, some people believe that plant based plastics (eg those made from sugarcane) are automatically biodegradable, and that’s not necessarily always the case.  

For items that require long haul transportation or really long shelf life, often soft plastic is the only option.  The fact people can then recycle those soft plastics via a REDcycle bin is a great option, giving that plastic more chances at ‘life’ – the true meaning of recycling and supporting a circular economy.

  1. What are the limitations/issues you are still facing with the program and how can consumers help to alleviate such problems?

The main limitation/issues is more about the end recycled product rather than the program itself.  There’s a culture in Australia of not necessarily purchasing a lot of products made from recycled materials, of not seeing the value in such procurement.  Our focus now is more about building a robust marketplace to purchase the products made with recycled soft plastics, to ensure there’s consistent and sustainable pull-through of the raw materials.  Without demand, recycling comes to a stop, a dramatic halt.  But by creating more and more products using soft plastics, and by supporting innovation in this space, we hope that more people – and councils, and businesses – will embrace this concept, and make different, better, purchasing choices in the future.

  1. What do you see the next 5-10 years looking like for REDcycle? What developments would you like to see which make soft plastic recycling an even better option for consumers?

With our recent merger meaning that we will be able to create cleaner feedstock for manufacturers moving forward, we believe that there will be lots more products and applications developed, using soft plastics.  As mentioned above, we firmly believe that material circularity should be and will be a reality in this country.