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Co-op to introduce reverse vending machines for plastic recycling

New retail technology could soon appear in Co-op stores around the UK, after the retailer announced the launch of a new recycling initiative.

Reverse vending machines will allow shoppers to return used plastic bottles in exchange for vouchers to spend on Co-op items.

The deposit and return scheme (DRS) will initially be trialled at Co-op’s pop-up stores at this summer’s music festivals, Download (8-10 June), Latitude (12-15 July) and Reading and Leeds festivals (24-26 August). The move has been facilitated through the retailer’s recently announced partnership with music promoter and event producer, Festival Republic.

Co-op said that plastic bottles sold at the pop-ups will have a mandatory deposit added to the price, with festival-goers able to return them to the reverse vending machine in exchange for a voucher to spend in the on-site stores. Bottles collected at each festival will then be recycled to create bottles for Co-op’s own brand bottled water.

Jo Whitfield, retail CEO at Co-op, commented: “Reducing the amount of plastic that makes its way to landfill is really important to us and our members.

“I’m excited that, in partnership with Live Nation and Recycling Options, we have the opportunity to bring these machines to the UK only a few months after they were officially given the green light by the government.”

She added: “We’re committed to giving our customers ways to make more ethical choices, so this is a hugely exciting milestone in our sustainability journey to achieve our future aim of making all of our food packaging 100% recyclable.”

The organisations providing the machine are Recycling Options and Envipco Holdings.

The Co-op’s announcement comes just a few weeks after the UK government announced it will introduce a nationwide DRS to increase recycling rates and reduce the amount of waste polluting our land and seas.

Subject to consultation, the initiative would focus on single use drinks containers, whether plastic, glass or metal. Similar schemes already operate in countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany, where consumers pay an up-front deposit when they buy a drink, ranging from 8p in Sweden to 22p in Germany, which is redeemed on return of the empty drink container.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said that possible variants of a deposit return scheme include cash rewards for returning drinks containers without an upfront deposit.

Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability policy at the British Retail Consortium, said the trade association hoped the initiative will move on from single issues such as bottles “to a more co-ordinated, comprehensive approach to tackling plastic packaging, starting with an effective producer responsibility”.