Reverse vending and deposit return schemes (DRS) have been gaining momentum in the rubbish clearance news lately. This is a review of what’s happening.
What Is DRS and Reverse Vending?
DRS stands for deposit return scheme. Basically, it works like this. At the point of sale, when you buy a beverage in a plastic bottle, there is small surcharge added to the total amount you pay, usually five to twenty pence. You can think of this “DRS” as a plastic bottle deposit. To get your money back, you put the bottle into a reverse vending machine. This provides a strong incentive for people to stop littering and to not put their plastic bottle in the rubbish clearance bin.
Reverse vending machines are about the same size as other vending machines. You put the plastic bottle in bottom first. The machine is then able to scan the barcode, detect the type of material, the weight of the bottle, and size of the bottle. It then crushes and compacts the bottle and sends it to a receptacle to be collected. You then get a slip that you can take to the tiller to get reimbursed. On some machines, you’re also given the option to donate your deposit to charity.
The History of Recycling Plastic Bottles In the UK
Early in the recycle bottle revolution, UK citizens were encouraged to refrain from putting their plastic bottles in rubbish clearance bins, and instead, take them to community “bottle banks” for recycling. However, this required a great deal of ethical commitment on the consumer’s part and it took significant time. So, the percentage of people who were willing to do so was rather low. Later, UK citizens were given recycling bins for kerbside collection which made it much easier and less time consuming. Plus, there was the “neighbor effect” of your neighbors knowing if you recycled or not so some people felt “shamed” into recycling their plastic bottles. However, even with this extra convenience, about half of the plastic bottles still ended up in the rubbish clearance bins rather than the recycle bins!
According to Keep Britain Tidy, the recycling rate for Britain has flat lined at a miserably low forty-four percent! The recycle rate for plastic bottles specifically is not much better, at fifty-seven percent. This means that more than half of the thirty-five million plastic bottles sold in the UK every day don’t get recycled! In contrast, the recycle rate in countries that operate a deposit return scheme have recycle rates on plastic bottles of more than ninety percent! These countries include Germany, Belgium, and the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.
Who’s Leading the Way on Reverse Vending Machines?
It’s should be no surprise that the top manufacturers of reverse vending machines are from the Scandinavian countries. TOMRA (Tomra Systems ASA), based in Norway, is the biggest. They have installed 75,000 reverse vending systems in sixty countries. These machines currently gather thirty-five billion plastic bottles annually and this number will likely go up.
Another emerging behemoth of reverse vending machines is RVM Systems (Reverse Vending Machine Systems), based in Sweden. They currently operate about 15,000, or about fifteen percent, of the reverse vending machines in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. These are currently being tested in Scotland.
What Type of Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) Are Happening In the UK?
While the technology has been available for years, the business adoption of DRS and reverse vending machines has not been. However, that has been rapidly changing over the last couple of years. According to the Daily Mail, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) had originally strongly opposed DRS, writing letters of opposition to the ministers, putting pressure on them to not go forward with any proposed DRS plans. However, they have now completely reversed this stance. Coca-Cola UK had also been against DRS but has now committed to using at least fifty percent recycled plastic by 2020. Since it’s hard for them to get enough recycled plastic for their operation, with the current rates of recycling, they are now supportive of DRS.
Surfers Against Sewage, a charity based in Cornwall, has collected more than 300,000 signatures on their petition for a bottle deposit return (DRS) system across the UK. In response to this effort and the Turn the Tide On Plastic Campaign, two supermarkets, Iceland Foods and the Co-op, have decided to give DRS a try. In fact, Richard Walker, the Director of Sustainability at Iceland Foods has called the plastic going into our oceans a “ticking time bomb.” Currently, plastic bottles make up about one-third of the plastic debris in our oceans. M&S ad Waitrose have quickly followed suite and will be offering DRS in their stores.
What About Government?
Probably due to the pressures from retailers, the UK government was slow to take up the idea of DRS compared to other European countries. However, Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, now publicly says that DRS is a good idea. The concept of DRS to deter putting plastic bottles in the rubbish clearance bin, seems to be catching on in Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
It’s certainly better to use DRS systems to get the recycle rate of plastic bottles AT HOME much higher. Currently, according to Operation Green Force, much of the UK’s plastic is shipped to China for recycling, and in other cases, often illegal so, to Indonesia and Malaysia!
Clearabee Applauds All Good Efforts To Keep Plastic Out of Landfills
One of Clearabee’s primary missions, which is fulfilled on a daily basis, is to divert as much plastic as possible from the landfills. When Clearabee comes to collect your rubbish clearance, they’d be pleased as punch not to see so many plastic bottles due to DRS.