Woolworths Group and Pact are working to establish a new partnership to boost circular packaging, which could see up to 18,000 tonnes of recycled plastic used in Woolworths’ own brand packaging each year.
Woolworths Group is committed to removing plastic from packaging wherever it can, already removing more than 5,800 tonnes of virgin single-use plastic and packaging from its own brand range in FY22. Where there is currently no viable alternative to plastic for food safety or quality, Woolworths Group is working to use recycled plastic to reduce the environmental impact.
The partnership being developed between Woolworths Group and Pact is expected to represent a multi-million-dollar investment in local recycling and manufacturing capacity.
Projections that the partnership could see 18,000 tonnes of newly made plastic replaced with locally produced recycled plastic each year would relate to an estimated decrease in carbon emissions of almost 25,000 tonnes (equivalent to planting more than 37,000 trees) and a saving of almost 500 Olympic swimming pools-worth of water annually.
The intent of the proposed partnership is to establish Pact as Woolworths Group’s key strategic partner by volume in its efforts to deliver more sustainable packaging across its own brand range and deliver the most significant boost to date towards Woolworths Group’s goal to halve the use of virgin plastic across its own brand packaging by 2024.
Under the proposed partnership, Pact will use recycled plastic to make more sustainable packaging for products across Woolworths’ product range, including in milk bottles, meat trays and beverage bottles, drawing on plastic collected from household recycling and container deposit schemes.
Pact currently operates five plastic recycling facilities in Australia, including the recently opened PET recycling plant in Albury-Wodonga which can recycle up to one billion PET beverage bottles a year. Another four facilities are planned for construction by 2025.
Woolworths Group managing director of Format & Network Development, Rob McCartney, oversees Woolworths 360 – the business’ sustainability innovation engine responsible for the development of the partnership.
“As Australia’s largest retailer we have a responsibility to make the products our customers put in their shopping baskets better for the environment,” McCartney said. “We’re working hard to remove plastic from packaging like our bakery trays, however it can be necessary to protect quality and food safety in some products – which is why replacing it with recycled plastic is the next best thing.
“Across the scale of our range, the real challenge is sourcing quality recycled material in the volumes we need and ensuring it’s coming from within Australia to support the development of our local circular economy and avoid shipping emissions.
“We’re working with Pact on a partnership that would propel us closer towards our sustainable packaging goal than we’ve ever been before, while also helping to grow the Australian recycling industry to meet demand in the years to come.”
Pact Group CEO and managing director, Sanjay Dayal, said Pact is working with committed partners like Woolworths to meet the increasing demand for recycled and recyclable plastic packaging.
“Plastic packaging that is designed effectively, that is recyclable and recycled properly in Australia can be used again and again, creating a truly local circular economy for plastics,” Dayal said.
NSW minister for Environment, James Griffin, said this initiative will support the state government’s goal to triple the plastics recycling rate by 2030 and reduce the plastics entering the environment as litter, or going to landfill.
“It is great to see businesses working in partnership with their customers, to move to more sustainable packaging and help develop a circular economy,” he said.
In addition to its recycling facilities, Pact is also investing $76 million to install new technology and equipment across its packaging manufacturing facilities as it continues to grow local capacity to support increased use of recycled plastic in Australian packaging. The investment is supported by a $20 million grant from the Australian government through the Modern Manufacturing Initiative.
Woolworths Group and Pact’s latest work on recycled plastic is the next chapter of a long-term relationship between the two businesses, with Pact already supplying Woolworths Group with 50 million reusable and recyclable plastic produce crates to replace traditional single-use cardboard and polystyrene boxes.
Woolworths Group has also co-founded plastic recycling start-up, Samsara, to help commercialise plastic-eating enzyme technology that could see plastic become infinitely recyclable. The business is still in its infancy with its first commercial scale plant expected to open in the next 18 months, from which Woolworths will take the first 5,000 tonnes of recycled plastic produced for use in its own products.