Recently our director Rachael Rothman was interviewed by Vice about reverse vending machines. Could they be a way out of the plastic pollution problem for the UK?
The article in Vice describes how supermarkets in the UK are trialling reverse vending machines for plastic bottles. Shoppers use these to exchange empties for store credit. Reverse vending machines have been shown to drive up return rates of bottles by as much as 98 percent. In contrast, the UK currently only recycles 43 percent of the 13 billion plastic bottles we use per year.
Though Racheal approves of the idea, she says it would be better if the collected bottles were reused rather than recycled. Reuse schemes in European countries use glass for soft drink bottles because glass can be sterilised and refilled. “But in the UK we usually have mechanical recycling, where you chop up [plastic bottles] and melt them, reforming them back into new plastic products. This is quite an energy-intensive process. But obviously, [all] recycling saves us from using more fossil fuels to make new plastic.”
Read: Plastic Bottle Recycling Machines Won’t Save Us
The need for reuse over recycling (or throwing away!) is central to our special research project, Many Happy Returns, which Rachael is a PI on.