Reverse vending and the circular economy

Reverse vending and the circular economy

Tesco will begin piloting a scheme of in-store reverse vending machines, allowing customers to return plastic bottles for recycling and receive cash in return.

The reverse vending scheme will allow users in areas of Swansea, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham to return up to 10 175ml or smaller bottles per day and will receive 10p per bottle. As a signatory to the UK Plastics Pact, Tesco has pledged to eliminate single-use packaging in its products by 2025.

Reverse vending machines

Reverse vending can be implemented with plastics or aluminium; and machines contribute to the circular economy by facilitating public involvement in recycling schemes, while minimising the mixing and dilution of materials which occurs when users are relied on to separate their waste (as in the case of municipal recycling schemes). Pilot schemes on school and university campuses also found a significant decrease in littering after installing reverse vending machines.

Deposit return schemes

Governments in England, Scotland and Wales have been in consultation about the possibility of implementing deposit return schemes in each individual nation, with the potential of a UK-wide scheme on the horizon. These would typically involve adding a small amount to the cost of a beverage to be refunded on return of the packaging, either in person or via a reverse vending machine.

Public approval

Surveys show Britons’ approval for reward and deposit return schemes at around 80%. Meanwhile, companies are reporting increased interest from customers in recycled and recyclable packaging. Pilot schemes of reverse vending machines have shown a noticeable rate of engagement and repeat use, with users praising the novelty of the machines as well as their convenience; users also expressed approval for long-term implementation of the machines past the pilot.

The circular economy

Renewability and sustainability are becoming an increasingly high priority for consumers, particularly with regard to plastics and single-use packaging. Reverse vending machines not only facilitate citizen participation in recycling schemes, but do so with a notably low rate of material contamination and a high rate of user engagement.

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