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300,000+ Plastic Bottles Recycled in 'Reverse Vending Machines' Test Run in UK

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Iceland was the first UK supermarket to trial a plastic bottle deposit program. Pictures Ltd. / Corbis via Getty Images

One UK store's attempt to fight plastic pollution has turned out to be a smashing success.

Last year, supermarket chain Iceland became the first UK retailer to install "reverse vending machines" that allow customers to return plastic bottles purchased at the store and receive a 10 pence voucher in return. The program has proved popular, according to figures published Wednesday and reported by The Guardian. Customers had returned 311,500 bottles to date.


"Iceland has continually led the way in the fight against the scourge of plastic since making our announcement to eliminate plastic from our own-label product packaging," Iceland Managing Director Richard Walker said, according to The Guardian. "The launch of reverse vending machine trials in our stores is one sign of this. We've gained hugely valuable insights into both consumer interest and the functionality of the schemes, and it's clear from the results that consumers want to tackle the problem of plastic head on and would be in support of a nationwide scheme."

The store found that customers had earned more than £30,000 through returning bottles so far. Iceland had installed the machines in five locations in Wolverhampton, Mold, Fulham, Musselburgh and Deeside. During the month of November, customers returned an average of 2,583 bottles a day for a daily average return of £250 in coupons.

Iceland said children were especially excited by the machines, sometimes even teaching their parents how to use them, i News reported. Iceland plans to continue the trial of the machines for another six months to assess the environmental impact of placing them in stores nationwide.

Since Iceland first installed its machines, other UK supermarkets Morrisons, the Co-op and Tesco, the nation's largest, have followed suit, but none of the others have yet announced results, The Guardian reported.

In October, UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he wanted to work with industry to implement a nation-wide bottle deposit program.

"The success of Iceland's reverse vending machine trial demonstrates that deposit return schemes to boost recycling and tackle plastic pollution are both popular with consumers and eminently doable," Greenpeace UK oceans head Will McCallum told The Guardian. "Michael Gove must deliver on his promise to introduce a deposit return scheme without delay, and ensure that it covers containers of all sizes and materials."

Thirteen billion plastic bottles are sold in the UK every year, and only 43 percent of them are recycled. Seven-hundred-thousand a day end up as litter.

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