Woolworths called out over worrying find at bottom of river: 'Don't be fooled'

Ocean Crusaders is on a mission to stop supermarket trolleys from being dumped, but the plastic 'recyclable' version is proving most problematic.

It's an expensive problem to have and one that's costing Aussie shoppers thousands of dollars a year says Ian Thomson whose mission is to stop supermarket trolleys from being dumped in our parks and waterways.

But the problem has been made worse because of Woolworths' promise for "a greener future", the cleaning specialist from Ocean Crusaders claims, saying the supermarket's so-called environmentally friendly, recyclable trolleys — first introduced in 2020 — are "disposable" and as bad as "single-use plastic" — and it's a problem that needs fixing.

Thomson and his team, based in Brisbane, pull on average about 300 trolleys a year from rivers and lakes, not just in Brisbane but throughout Sydney and Melbourne too. Traditional metal trolleys can often be returned and reused, but often the plastic ones from Woolies — said to be made from 74 plastic milk bottles — can't, he told Yahoo News Australia.

"Don't be fooled," Ocean Crusaders warned of the claim on their Facebook page, "There are no certificates to prove their claims of 74 milk bottles in every trolley, but do the maths."

"Plastic breaks, we all know that," added Thompson. "They're really light, a lot lighter than the metal ones and I've seen plenty of them broken. They're also getting stuck together [after we recover them] which also damages them. You didn't have that with the metal ones".

Supermarket trollies being pulled from river in Brisbane.
Ocean Crusaders in Brisbane pull on average 300 supermarket trolleys from waterways each year, with Woolworths' green plastic ones being most problematic. Source: Ocean Crusaders

Lost trolleys 'paid for with our groceries'

Each trolley costs roughly $300 to replace, the Queenslander said claiming most stores “don't do much” to recover lost trolleys, or at least broken parts. "That's often being paid for with our groceries," he claimed, suggesting it's everyday Aussies bearing the brunt of the costs.

Instead, if a plastic trolley is damaged, Woolworths will simply "undo the bolts and put a new crate on top of [the metal base] and then just throw the other trolley away", he claimed, suggesting it's a cheaper method for the supermarket giant. "If they are going to lose trolleys, they shouldn't be a disposable item, it's not really good for the environment."

Worthworths green trolleys being collected after being pulled from river in Brisbane.
Often, the plastic trolleys break and can't be reused so they're not as sturdy at the metal ones, it's claimed. Source: Ocean Crusaders

Push for Woolworths to introduce token or coin system

In a video posted on the Ocean Crusader's Facebook page, Thomson called out the supermarket over its "claim to be pushing for a greener future." He showed a few dozen trolleys, both broken and intact, which his team pulled from the Cornmeal Creek in Maroochydore recently. Speaking to the manager at the local Woolies store, Thomson was told they're missing about 150 trolleys. "That's $45,000 consumers are paying in their groceries at just one store," he suggested.

Thomson said an easy solution to the problem would be to introduce a token or coin system like Aldi has in place which would "reduce the amount of trolleys in the environment". "They could make those tokens out of recycled plastic and even have their branding on it, but they won't because they're worried about backlash," he said.

Woolies responds to claims

Speaking to Yahoo previously, a spokesperson for Supercart, who partnered with Woolies on the move in 2020, said they were extremely proud to see their shopping trolleys in Woolworths stores.

"Not only will shoppers enjoy the lightweight, greater manoeuvrability and functionality of our trolleys, they will also be part of the solution in saving plastics from our oceans and landfill. That’s what we are committed to," said Supercart Australia Technical Director, Louw van Tonder.

The supermarket previously told Yahoo News the shopping trolleys are made of recycled plastic and that the change is more environmentally friendly. When asked about Thomson's claims on Tuesday, including why Woolworths switched to plastic trolleys and if they'd consider using tokens, the supermarket declined to answer Yahoo directly.

A spokesperson did confirm however that broken baskets returned to them are "sent back to where the trolleys are manufactured, melted back down and then remoulded into a brand new trolley".

Woolworths green recycled trolley
Woolworths launched their recycled trolleys in partnership with Supercart in March 2020. Source: Woolworths Group

'Vast majorty' of shoppers 'do the right thing'

Regarding trolley dumping in general, a Woolies spokesperson told Yahoo the "vast majority [of people] do the right thing in returning them".

"We understand abandoned trolleys can be a nuisance and that's why we invest millions in collection services to help mitigate their impact in the community," a spokesperson said.

"We work closely with dedicated collection contractors who respond quickly to reports of abandoned trolleys to return them to our stores. They also conduct regular sweeps for abandoned trolleys in the streets surrounding our stores." It's understood Woolworths partners with Trolley Tracker — a service which allows members of the public to report abandoned trolleys.

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