Reverse Vending: The Environmental Impact

Reverse Vending

Everyone has a role in reducing waste, protecting the environment, and helping Ireland achieve carbon neutrality. The plastic packaging industry has one of the most public parts to play and their role is already legislated: the European Union has required the industry to claw back 90% of PET bottles by 2029, ensuring they can be reused. Before that, the EU mandates that half of all plastic waste must reach recycling centres by 2025.

To meet that target, packaging industries need empowered citizens, who have the information and mechanisms they need to bring packaging back for recycling. Making it as easy as possible to return plastic and metal packaging for recycling while also building in an incentive is a key part of this task alongside public education.

Reverse vending machines are a way to help dramatically reduce the environmental impact of the packaging industry by both streamlining recycling but also creating an incentive. You’ve probably already seen an RVM machine in your community, particularly at your local Aldi.

What’s the real environmental impact of reverse vending machines?

The Environmental Impact of Plastic

According to the European Commission, each person living in the EU generated 34.6 kilos of plastic packaging waste on average in the year 2020. We only recycled 13 kg of this waste on average. Here in Ireland, we send just one-third of our plastic packaging waste to recycling and we use the most plastic packaging among all Europeans.

Packaging itself is not the enemy: the way we use it is. Creating plastic packaging and simply throwing it away when it can be reused and repurposed is the problem.

When we don’t recycle and reuse plastic, the problem doesn’t go away: often, we send it abroad to South East Asia, where it piles up and ends up in lakes, rivers, and the ocean. When we don’t, it’s incinerated.

Recycling plastic, in particular, is a key part of protecting our natural resources and achieving carbon neutrality. In fact, the European Union developed the EU Plastic Strategy to change the lifecycle of plastics so that we can continue reaping the benefits of the material without having such a damaging impact on the environment.

Reverse Vending Machines & How They Fit into Re-turn (Ireland’s Deposit Return Scheme)

While manufacturers continue to work on improving the design and production of plastics, those of us further down the supply chain are tasked with ensuring that same plastic gets put back into the circular economy. For retailers processing bulk plastics, waste balers are already an important part of waste management plans, making it easier to sort and recycle plastic.  There’s a new way for retailers (or any other business or community group) to redirect these items away from a landfill: reverse vending machines.

Reverse vending machines are coming to Ireland as part of the Re-turn programme, Ireland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). You’ve probably already experienced this scheme if you’ve ever been to a supermarket while on holiday on the continent, where Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands, and Germany have all run this scheme for decades and have achieved return rates of 90%+.

The concept behind reverse vending machines is simple: consumers pay a small deposit every time they buy a product in a PET plastic bottle or metal can. When they’re ready to recycle the containers, you bring them to a reverse vending machine, which takes in those items and returns your deposit.

The Deposit Return Scheme will begin in February 2024: from February, when anyone buys a product in a bottle or can featuring the Re-turn logo, you’ll pay a small deposit on top of the cost of the product. When you return the container, you’ll get that deposit back.

This is great news for you as a consumer, but if you’re a business owner, there’s even better news.

How Reverse Vending Machines Improve Customer Retention

How can installing a reverse vending machine at your store help improve customer footfall? Once the Re-turn scheme is in place, shoppers will have a financial incentive to claw back the deposit on PET bottles and other affected materials. However, because these programmes have been available in Europe for decades, there’s great data available on how reverse vending machine recycling influences consumer behaviour.

The opportunity for retailers lies in early adoption and maintenance of your recycling areas.

A survey of Europeans found that 87% of deposits reclaimed at reverse vending machines are then spent again on the property. Attracting those customers and establishing their habit at your store is vital.

The same survey found that reverse vending machines and other sustainable waste management options do more than drive footfall: they can be a way for you to differentiate. You can become the retailer of choice when you:

  • Keep your recycling area including the machine well maintained
  • Choose a reverse recycling machine that’s easy to use

In fact, the same survey found that among shoppers in Europe, a well-maintained, accessible recycling area is more important to them than parking.

Are You Ready for the Re-Turn Program?

The Re-turn programme is coming to Ireland, and retailers like Aldi are already getting involved. Winning those customers who are keen to be early adopters of Re-turn will not only increase your footfall, but European research shows it will increase their spend in your stores.

LSM is a chosen provider of EcoVend, who provide reverse vending machines in Ireland. To learn more about the tools available to build sustainable waste management programs for your business and your community, get in touch to request a call back.

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