How do we solve 13 billion recycling problems?

This week, James Foster - Head of Account Management at ACM Environmental Plc, gives us his thoughts on the proposed DRS and reverse vending.

The Government’s 2018, 25 year environment plan involves several key strategies. One that has caught my eye is the plan to bring in a Deposit Recovery Scheme (DRS) – a strategy that has proven highly effective in Europe. In Lithuania, for example, they achieved a 93% return rate in just three years, which is a very impressive figure. The Netherlands have used DRS with great success for many years.

The idea behind the DRS is to provide an incentive and a closed loop recycling solution for problem Single Use Plastics (SUP). We have a problem when it comes to plastics – in fact we have a massive problem. We use 13 BILLION single use plastic bottles, just in the UK. Excessive consumption that drives this is, of course, the problem, which could only be resolved over time with a public mindset change.

In the meantime, we have 13 billion problems. The frustrating part is that these bottles are perfectly recyclable but capturing these bottles for recycling is proving to be a challenge. Currently, relying on domestic, commercial and public recycling schemes we only capture around 7 billion of the bottles, meaning that there are 6 billion that are not recycled. These numbers are scary considering they’re only for the UK. So how could DRS provide a solution?

In simple terms, with a DRS, the consumer pays a premium when they purchase a single use beverage container which they can then get back by returning the container for recycling. In other words, people get paid for their recycling efforts. One avenue for implementing this is via a Reverse Vending Machine (RVM).

It is hoped that following the lead that many of our European neighbours have been taking for a long time, will increase the capture rate of the plastic bottles (and cans). By capturing them through a RVM, we are also ensuring that the materials are of very high quality, something that the recycling re-processors are always talking about as being the key for them to be able to sustainably recycle materials.

The timescale for the launch of the DRS scheme country wide is still to be confirmed and is likely subject to a trial in Scotland sometime in 2020/21. However, there is a massive opportunity for commercial organisations and others to introduce RVMs and associated reward schemes ahead of government plans.

ACM launched an EcoVend range of RVM machines last year and became the first to install one in a public environment in Letchworth Garden City centre. It’s linked with the local Business Improvement District to bring local retailers on board who offer a discount in their shops to people with a voucher from the RVM. The idea is to now look at opportunities to install machines in railway stations, shopping centres, hospitals, leisure centres and a long list of other locations.

There is a real clamour and desire to be ahead of the curve and be well established in using RVMs before the Government, UK wide DRS comes into play down the line. Whilst DRS doesn’t solve the problem of our desire to consume, I believe that it forms a key part of the strategy for UK Plc in a post Brexit world in dealing sustainably with the materials we consume and produce.