Woolworths has announced a major change that will affect all of its own-brand products.

Australia will soon be home to its first commercial recycling plant that uses enzymes to “eat” plastic and break it down into its basic molecules so they can be reused.

Recycling the first 5,000 tonnes of recycled material from start-up Samsara – the equivalent of the weight of nearly nine A380 planes – will be tested in packaging items for Woolworths supermarket shelves over the next two years.

The enzymes were developed by researchers at the Australian National University and are currently in use on a small scale in a lab on campus, with plans for the commercial plant to employ around 50 people.

Woolworths has announced that it will support Samsara in partnership with the ANU and the innovation fund of the Commonwealth’s scientific and industrial research organization, Main Sequence.

Samsara will initially focus on rigid “PET” plastic used for bottles and food packaging, as well as polyester fabric.

It will recycle plastic collected in curbside recycling bins, including colored and contaminated plastics that traditional recycling cannot handle as efficiently.

Samsara CEO Paul Riley said the technology means plastic of all kinds could potentially be endlessly recyclable.

“This means that we will never again have to create new plastic from scratch using fossil fuels, and we can save plastic from our oceans and landfills to give it new life in new products,” did he declare.

The first Samsara packaging will be used on Woolworths own-label products.

“We know that plastics and recycling are top environmental concerns for our customers,” said Brad Banducci, CEO of Woolworths Group.

Earlier this year, Woolworths, Coles and Aldi joined 57 other big companies in a pact to drastically reduce the amount of plastic they use.

One of the goals of the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands Plastics Compact is for each of the supermarkets to have 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging, as well as to dispose of unnecessary and “problematic” plastic packaging.

Large supermarkets have been heavily criticized in the past for the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging on the products they sell.

The Woolworths Group says it continues to cut plastic, removing 2,500 tonnes of plastic packaging from circulation over 12 months, in addition to the thousands of tonnes removed from its own brand packaging in recent years.

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