University leading fight against plastic pollution

Glasgow is the first university in the UK to install a ‘reverse vending’ machine for the return of used plastic drinks bottles.

Students Tahsina Akbar, 28, and Ahmed Prapan, 27, are the first to try out the University's new Reverse Vending machine

Students Tahsina Akbar, 28, and Ahmed Prapan, 27, are the first to try out the University’s new Reverse Vending machine

In an attempt to take the fight against plastic pollution a step further, the University of Glasgow has introduced an automated device which will make a donation to charity for every container recycled.

Reverse vending has operated in Sweden since 1984 where 90 per cent of household waste is recycled. In Scotland that figure is 44 per cent.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government made a commitment to develop a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for single- use drinks containers that will be rolled out across Scotland, and Zero Waste Scotland is currently devising the scheme.

The principle of deposit-return is to create an additional incentive where consumers pay a surcharge on single-use drinks containers, which is refunded when the bottle is returned.

Initially, the UofG Reverse Vending® machine will accept plastic bottles only, with a donation in return for each container going to the Beatson Pebble Appeal, which raises funds for the University’s cancer research.

After a trial period, users will be able to recycle drinks cans as well and be given cash tokens worth 10p they can then use in shops.

During the trial period, the machine will only accept empty bottles bought on campus but will go on to accept them from any outlet.

“The reverse vending machine has a 360-degree recognition system so it will pick up the barcode, the material of the bottle and its size and dimensions,” said John MacDonald, Director of vending machine suppliers, Excel Vending.

“It’s easy to use: you just insert the bottle, which is crushed, compacted and dropped into a bag at the bottom. There is enough storage for 800 cans and 400 plastic bottles, which can then be collected.

“The machine allows greater control of the quality of the recyclable product, which prevents it becoming contaminated and destined for landfill.”

Scott Girvan, Executive Chef, Retail Manager of the University’s Hospitality Services, Estates and Commercial Services, said the move was part of a drive to increase sustainability and reduce waste across the University.

“We’re the first University to bring a ‘deposit-return ready’ reverse vending machine onto campus. During the trial period, we will be monitoring how people respond to the machine,” he said.

“The resulting clean and properly sorted recycling will be a valuable resource, so the machine will effectively pay for itself.”