Co-op to host reverse vending machines for plastic bottles at UK festivals

Co-op has confirmed plans to host reverse vending machines as part of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles at seven UK festivals this summer, following successful trials last year.

Pictured: The recycling room at Download festival 

Pictured: The recycling room at Download festival 

The supermarket became the first retailer to host pop-up reverse vending machines last year at Download, Latitude, Reading and Leeds festivals.

Building on the success of this pilot project, Co-op announced today (19 June) that it will be hosting the machines, which enable automated collecting, sorting and handling of returned or used plastic containers for recycling or reuse, at these festivals once more and at three additional events: Isle of Wight Festival, Creamfields and Tartan Hearts, Belladrum.

Under the scheme, plastic bottles sold at the Co-op’s pop-up festival stores will carry a 10p deposit return fee, which customers can claim back when they use the reverse vending machines. The machines offer this credit either in the form of a Co-op voucher or a charitable donation to Keep Britain Tidy.

All water bottles collected by the machines, which are being provided by Tomra, will be sent for recycling into new Co-op own-brand water bottles. The retailer notably moved to include 50% recycled content in its own-brand water bottles on a trial basis in 2018, and has since made this a permanent fixture.

“As a leading ethical retailer, we’re delighted to be bringing back the reverse vending machines for even more festival customers this year,” Co-op’s commercial director Michael Fletcher said.

“The activity will really help us to understand how consumers use and react to the machines, providing invaluable insight to inform the debate on how deposit return schemes could work in the UK.“

In order to make the reverse vending machines more prominent, Co-op has desinged designated areas, called 'recycling rooms', for all its festival shops. 

Policy shifts

The move comes as the Government is consulting on how best to design a UK-wide deposit return scheme as part of its Resources and Waste Strategy.

Two variants of the system, which will operate for cans and plastic and glass bottles, are being explored by Defra. An “all-in” model would focus on all beverages placed on the market, irrespective of size, while the second, “on-the-go” model would restrict drinks containers that could operate in the system to less than 750ml and sold in a single format.

Scotland has already confirmed that its national deposit return scheme will cover all beverage products between 50ml and 300ml with a 20p deposit. However, HDPE-made plastic bottles, which are typically used for milk, will not be included.

Away from policy, Co-op is one of several big-name businesses to have either publicly backed calls for a nationwide deposit return scheme or hosted reverse-vending machines themselves.

Iceland, for example, collected more than 300,000 bottles during the first nine months of its deposit return system, which it operates across four stores and in its Deeside-based head office. Smaller reverse-vending trials have also been held by the likes of MorrisonsThe Co-op and Tesco.

And it’s not just supermarkets that are getting involved; reverse vending machines are also being hosted by the likes of Leon and Veolia, car park operator CitiPark and Canary Wharf Group, the latter of which was recently recognised by Surfers Against Sewage as a ‘Plastic Free Community’.  

Sarah George



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