Hundreds of supermarket items found with outdated labelling advice that sparks computer fail

Anyone who tries to access the REDcycle website will receive an error message.

Left - a packet of cleaning supplies with the REDcycle and ARL logos. Right - a packet of chips with the same logos in a supermarket isle.
Major brands in supermarkets continue to carry the ARL and REDcycle logos years after the national soft plastics scheme collapsed. Source: Yahoo

Almost two years after the collapse of the REDcycle recycling scheme, hundreds of supermarket products continue to direct customers to its website to find their nearest soft plastics drop off location. But if you follow these outdated directions today your browser will issue an error message advising: "This site can't be reached".

This packaging guideline is one of two major causes of frustration for sustainability advocates. The other is that many items packaged in soft plastic also carry the Australian Recycling Label (ARL) even though they can’t be placed in most yellow bins — leading to allegations consumers are being “greenwashed” by the grocery manufacturer's claims.

“Beyond a joke” is how Boomerang Alliance, a coalition of sustainability non-profits, described the situation on Friday.

It sampled a random selection of products sold at major supermarkets on March 26 and April 23, finding many still advertised there were in-store soft plastic collections available. Yahoo News independently verified these claims, documenting the ARL, REDcycle and generic recycling labels on several products including chips, dishwashing tables, cleaning wipes, pasta and fresh food.

Of course, some soft plastic recycling trials are being undertaken in Australia, and most packages advise shoppers to “check locally” for options in their area. But under the ARL guidelines, at least 60 per cent of the population must have “convenient access” to a recycling service for it to be deemed “recyclable”.

“Check locally is just another attempt at greenwashing customers by the supermarkets," Boomerang Alliance director Jeff Angel said. He commended two major brands, Bega Cheese and Smiths Crisps, for removing the logo from their packing, saying that directing consumers to place it in the waste bin isn’t a great outcome for the planet, but at least it's honest.

Dish washing tablets and pasta with recycling logos on them.
Brands were documented displaying the REDcycle and ARL (left) as well as generic labelling (right). Source: Yahoo

The allegations come as the Senate continues to investigate the impact of “greenwashing” on consumers. Earlier this week, the inquiry’s chair Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Aussie consumers were “fed up” with being lied to about sustainability claims, and called on the government to act.

“They're fed up with walking into the supermarket and seeing an array of different products and being told lies about how environmentally friendly they are, that they’re saving animals or saving the climate,” she said.

But it’s not just the supermarkets who have come under fire, Hanson-Young noted the government’s own sustainability logo, the Climate Active trademark had not been verified by the ACCC. Network 10’s reality television show MasterChef was also accused of “greenwashing” over a deal it struck with a gas corporation to advertise emerging technologies which environmentalists said were merely peddling “false solutions” to the fuel which it described as “unhealthy, polluting and expensive”.

In 2022, following the RedCycle collapse, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the government was willing to work with the supermarkets to find “a viable solution”.

In 2023, the Australian Food and Grocery Council revealed new details of a trial which saw soft plastics placed in household yellow bins.

The REDcycle website is no longer online. Source: Yahoo
The REDcycle website is no longer online. Source: Yahoo

That year, Yahoo asked Coles and Woolworths why their stocked items continued to display the REDcycle logo it indicated it was to avoid significant volumes of additional unnecessary waste going directly to landfill as some cases suppliers produced their packages years in advance.

Plastics are a serious issue, choking oceans, killing wildlife and fouling beaches. It's estimated humans consume around a credit card's worth of plastic every week and it's regularly found in human blood, breastmilk and organs. It's even been linked to a scary new bird disease called plasticosis. This month it was revealed 212 kilograms of microplastics had fallen in a single day onto the city of Ottawa where leaders have gathered to debate a plastics treaty.

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