Woolworths Group is considering any potential impact of the current unavailability of the instore soft plastics recycling program on our sustainability goals. Our ambition remains to make our own brand packaging widely recyclable, reusable or compostable, and we are working through soft plastics recycling solutions as part of an industry and government taskforce.


Our customers tell us that one of their top concerns is packaging waste; plastic waste, in particular. We are focused on eliminating plastic wherever possible, and working towards closing the loop by encouraging recycling through design, technology and clear communication to our customers and suppliers. 

The number one challenge to our business in plastics packaging continues to be fruit and vegetables. More than any other product category, packaging is a critical part of food safety and quality, protecting produce in transit, extending shelf life and reducing food waste. 

In seeking to positively impact our planet, we are partnering with industry to reduce the use of virgin plastic and increase the amount of recycled content in our own brand packaging, while making it easier for our customers to recycle and influencing our value chain to do the same.

We continue to trial innovative solutions in this space. 

Woolworths Supermarkets and BIG W delivered on our commitment to stop selling 15-cent plastic bags in Australian stores by the end of June 2023, becoming the first national retailer to do so. Online plastic bag sales will cease for Woolworths Supermarkets by the end of 2023. Once the phase out is completed, this will see approximately 350 million plastic bags removed from circulation annually. It follows our move in New Zealand, where Countdown stopped providing plastic bags in 2018. This year, Countdown removed single-use plastic produce bags in line with government regulation, accounting for 50 million bags (85 tonnes) used in stores annually.

Woolworths Group is working towards transitioning our own brand ranges to recyclable, compostable or reusable packaging. As of July 2023, we have reduced virgin plastic packaging by more than 14,000 tonnes, through targeted initiatives, from our baseline of 2018.

We continue to be committed to working towards to the following priorities for our own brand packaging:

  • Halving the use of virgin plastic packaging by weight in our own brand products against our 2018 baseline for our supermarkets by 2025
  • Achieving an average of 60% recycled content in our own brand packaging by the end of 2025
  • Trialling more refillable and reusable packaging options for products in our operations
  • Phasing out problematic and unnecessary materials, as identified by Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), starting with our own brands in our supermarkets and BIG W. For our supermarkets, as at the end of 2023, we have removed 95% by weight of the nine problematic and unnecessary materials identified by APCO from our Woolworths Supermarkets own brands. We have also identified solutions for much of the remaining problematic materials and are implementing solutions to phase out the majority of this material. For the one category of materials, namely pharmaceutical blister packs which feature rigid PVC material, we are continuing to work with industry to find solutions for this material while ensuring that we continue to provide customers with an own brand pharmaceutical range. We are on track to phase out problematic and unnecessary materials for our BIG W 2025 commitment
  • Promoting recycling, including displaying the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL)* on 100% of own brand product packaging in our supermarkets and BIG W. For our supermarkets’ own brands, as at the end of 2023, we have added the ARL to the packaging artwork of 100% of our own brand product packaging sold in our Australia and New Zealand supermarkets. This is two years ahead of the National Packaging Targets timeframes.  This updated packaging will continue to flow onto our shelves and to avoid waste, some items without the ARL may still appear in stores until sold through. We are on track to achieve 100% ARL for our BIG W 2025 commitment.

*To support customers’ soft plastic recycling efforts, we are replacing the current ARL ‘return to store’ logo on our own brand products with the new soft plastics recycling ARL ‘check locally’ by 1st July 2025. We are also working as part of the Soft Plastics Taskforce to enable a staged restart of access to in-store soft plastics collections, and working closely with processors domestically to build soft plastic processing capacity and capability to maximise soft plastics recovery.

To achieve our goal of making packaging more sustainable, we’re committed to collaborating with our trading partners, government and industry to reduce waste and transition our business to a circular economy.

Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands Plastics Pact (ANZPAC)

In May 2021, we became a founding member of the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands Plastics Pact (ANZPAC), which brings the industry, at every level of the supply chain, together in the pursuit of a shared set of plastic reduction targets and whose mission is “Together, through shared knowledge, investment and industry-led innovation, we will implement solutions tailored to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands region.” Woolworths Group’s commitments, as outlined in our Sustainability Plan 2025, align with the targets set by ANZPAC. We see working together as an entire industry, and region, as critical to identifying and implementing solutions to reduce plastic waste. 

Collaborating to reduce hard to recycle materials

We not only want to improve our own brand packaging but influence our whole value chain to explore more sustainable solutions. To this end, in 2021, we launched the ‘Woolworths Group – Packaging Preferred Materials List and Format Guidelines’. 

Developed in consultation with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, we have shared it with our own brand and vendor branded suppliers to support their packaging plans by considering problematic and preferred packaging materials. 

The Guidelines provide a helpful tool as we work towards phasing out the hardest to recycle materials from all packaging by 2025 in line with the Australian Government’s 2025 National Packaging Targets. 

The Guidelines categorises packaging materials based on how easily recyclable they are:

  • ‘Red’ = avoid using since customers cannot easily recycle. Phase out by 2025. For example, carbon black plastic, cardboard coated with wax. 
  • ‘Amber’ = when functional requirements mean ‘Green’ materials are not an option. For example, coloured rigid plastics, liquid paper board. 
  • ‘Green’ = packaging materials and characteristics which are widely recyclable in Australia and New Zealand. For example, PET, clear glass, corrugated cardboard.

Samsara and Woolworths

One of Woolworths most exciting partnerships is with enviro-tech company Samsara, of which it is a co-founder. Samsara uses technology, discovered by researchers from Australian National University, in which an enzyme is used to break down existing plastics (e.g. bottles) into their basic building blocks so that they can be reused in the plastics production process as if they were virgin plastic. 

Woolworth’s circular economy and innovation team, W360, is working closely with Samsara to take its technology from the lab to Woolworths supermarkets, with Samsara packaging expected to hit shelves in the next two years. The medium-term goal is for Woolworths to help scale Samsara’s capabilities to a point where it becomes a supplier of this technology to other retailers and suppliers.

In line with our Woolworths Group Sustainability Plan 2025 as well as current and forthcoming legislative changes, Woolworths Group will cease the sale, supply or distribution of any product or packaging that contains oxo-degradable plastics by 1 March 2022 nationally in Australia, and by 1 October 2022 in New Zealand.

To support this action, the Woolworths Group Oxo-degradable Plastics Policy was launched in February 2022. We have also have released an updated problematic and preferred packaging materials list and it’s great to see that many suppliers have already removed it from products and packaging, in line with our position on problematic materials.

For our progress against this goal, see our 2023 Sustainability Report. For more information on our metrics, see our 2023 Sustainability Data Pack.