Iceland reverse vending machines reach 1m recycling landmark

Frozen food retailer Iceland has revealed more than one million plastic bottles have now been recycled by its in-store reverse vending machines.

Introduced for the first time in May 2018, the new retail technology has helped customers return used packaging in return for a voucher to spend in store. And Iceland says the high level usage of the machines shows widespread support for an official deposit return scheme (DRS) in the UK.

The retailer’s own research indicates over 95% of customers think a DRS should be extended to all retailers, while two-thirds of customers said they used the machines because of environmental concerns.

Richard Walker, managing director at Iceland, is a retail boss who has taken a lead on raising awareness of the negative impact many retail products, processes, and packaging has on the environment.

He said: “Iceland was the first retailer to trial reverse vending machines and we believe the customer feedback we have received shows that our simple model of accepting all sizes of plastic drinks bottle – and extending this to include drinks cans – is the only sensible way to roll out a DRS nationally."

Walker added: “We have more than 950 stores across the UK and with the support of the government we could fit a reverse vending machine in every one of our stores. With over one million bottles returned to just five of our stores, the positive environmental impact of having machines across the UK would be phenomenal.”

The Iceland owned stores that have operated reverse vending machines are in Fulham, Mold, Musselburgh, Wolverhampton, and Belfast – the machines were deployed between May last year and January 2019. The trial in Wolverhampton, at the retailer’s The Food Warehouse store, ended in July 2019, but a machine was then added to the supermarket’s store at the Merrion Centre in Leeds.

The UK government is currently considering responses from individuals, businesses, and pressures groups to a nationwide consultation on how an official DRS scheme might operate in country.

Scotland has completed its own consultation period and is committed to launching its own ‘all in’ DRS, including all PET plastic drinks bottles, aluminium and steel cans, and glass bottles – with customer paying a 20p deposit on purchases which is refunded when the drinks container is returned.

Iceland’s Walker said earlier this year that the addition of glass could be problematic for businesses, and urges any official UK government scheme to only include plastic bottles and cans.

Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, and Boots are among the retailers to deploy reverse vending machines in their stores, while Co-op Food has run its own DRS trials at music festivals in 2018 and 2019.