Coles has announced it will be trialing zero-waste to landfill in a single store in Sydney’s west as part of its commitment to divert 90 per cent of waste from landfill by 2022.

Every day, Coles’ Wentworth Point supermarket in western Sydney sends about six and a half shopping trolleys’ worth of rubbish to landfill but the store plans to cut that dramatically under an initiative by the grocery giant to find new ways to reduce waste in stores.

One of the waste-reduction methods under consideration is converting dry waste, such as timber and mixed plastic, into process-engineered fuel (PEF) by partnering with waste-to-energy company, Cleanaway.

Cleanaway’s regional manager of Solid Waste Services NSW, Alex Hatherley, said PEF was “a sustainable fuel source”.

“Our facility is unique in its ability to divert commercial dry waste from landfill, recover recyclable materials and then convert the remaining combustibles,” Hatherley said in a statement. 

“This is a great solution for Coles’ stores that produce high volumes of mixed back-of-house plastics but want to achieve a zero waste to landfill goal.”

The announcement by Coles comes after a serious backlash of the chain’s Little Shop collectable series, which offers shoppers small plastic toys in the shape of products, such as dishwashing liquid, dog food and razor shavers, every time customers spent over $30 in a transaction.

The series, which was launched during Plastic Free July, resembles rival chain Woolworths’ recent small plastic Lion King figurine giveaways, called Ooshies.

Both have been popular among young children and both have been criticised as “a manipulative promotion that relies, among other things, on the same psychological triggers that can promote gambling addiction in adults” by University of Tasmania lecturer in retail marketing Louise Grimmer and professor of marketing Martin Grimmer in a Conversation piece

The promotions have also been criticised for generating needless plastic waste. Some experts have said the small plastic figurines could be worse than single-use plastic bags, which Coles had banned earlier the same month.

“Plastic bags generally get used a couple of times, so their impact on the environment is less,” Dr Trevor Thornton, lecturer in hazardous materials management at Deakin University told the ABC’s Hack program.

“These toys probably use more plastics than the bags … and they’re not being recycled at the end of the day, whereas plastic bags could be.”

However, Little Shop wrappers can be recycled via Coles’ REDcycle program, which collects soft plastics, such as single-use bags and food wrappers, in bins at store entrances. The material is recycled into products, including furniture and playground equipment, via a partnership with Melbourne-based recycling organisation RED Group.

In a report published last month, the supermarket chain declared the partnership had collected 226 million pieces of soft plastic in the past year – “enough pieces of plastic to go around the world one and half times”.

Unlike the wrappers, the toys themselves cannot be recycled, and it’s been reported some have ended up as far away as Bali.

Despite this, the supermarket chain’s chief property and export officer, Thinus Keeve, said the zero-carbon trial was being undertaken in a bid to become “Australia’s most sustainable supermarket”.

“Coles is passionate about driving generational sustainability with innovation that reduces environmental impact,” Keeve said.

“We were the first Australian supermarket to sign a renewable energy PPA… we are proud of our partnership with food rescue services Secondbite and Foodbank. But there is always more that we can do.”

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