Plastic Recycling

Campaigners urge for EU-wide adoption of reverse vending machines for plastic bottles in supermarkets

A European Citizens Initiative has called for the introduction of reverse vending machines (RVM) to supermarkets.

A European Citizens Initiative has called for the introduction of reverse vending machines (RVM) to supermarkets.

The proposed scheme for an EU wide plastic bottle deposit scheme would see consumers paying a surcharge of 0,15€ per bottle. The bill itself would record the expense as a deposit fee. Supermarkets would be responsible for creating financial incentivises to endear the model to customers.

Should the #ReturnthePlastics initiative have its way, plastic manufacturing companies would be tasked to financially prop up this scheme through the payment of a plastic tax.  

A petition detailing these ideas was registered with the European Commission on August 13, its implementation in actual policy form dependent on whether the initiative can meet official conditions for acceptance-namely, a million signatures in at least 7 EU member countries.

The call for stronger legislation comes in the wake of the EU’s recently imposed plastic ban which saw the elimination of 10 common types of flexible plastics (ex. straws, cutlery and plates) from the plastic retail chain.

The EU Single-Use Plastics Directive, which entails the elimination of beverage cups, does not, however, extend to PET bottles.

Intending these products to be phased out more gradually, the EU has limited itself within the remit of the directive to awareness-raising measures, labelling measures for producers informing consumers about the plastic content of products as well as to general waste management and clean-up obligations for producers.

Each year, around 1,3 million plastic bottles are sold across the world. These bottles can take about 500 years to decompose.

The reason for the omission of PET bottles from the plastics directive follows the reasoning that these are easily recycled.

What’s noteworthy in the context, however, is that only 65% of PET bottles are actually collected for recycling in Europe.

With the single-use plastics directive having set a collection target of 90% recycling for PET bottles in 2029 and said bottles mandated to contain 30% of recycled content by 2030, collection rates need to soar for the EU to be able reach the set objectives, rendering the #ReturnthePlastics initiative more important than ever.

Germany, Norway, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands have achieved plastic recovery rates of over 90% after implementing their bottle deposit schemes.

Success usually hinges on changing the mindset of people accustomed to viewing plastic bottles as waste rather than as an asset-a recent example for when this kind of revaluation worked was when the UK introduced a 5p charge on plastic carrier bags. The measure resulted in a nationwide drop in plastic bag use by 85% as people ‘did not want to waste money’.

Yet criticism has also been leveraged against bottle deposit systems.

In many ways, they place the responsibility for recycling squarely on the shoulders of consumers who, in the case of advanced age or disability, cannot always be required to return to supermarkets regularly to use the relevant reverse vending machines.

Shared responsibility across the plastic supply chain for end-of-life plastic bottles that is tied to EPR as well as producer sensibility towards sustainability in the bottle design stage could present alternate solutions to the plastic problem.