We’re set to become the first UK retailer to launch a deposit and return scheme (DRS) trial with reverse vending machines, as part of our commitment to increasing recycling and reducing marine pollution.

The landmark pilot initiative will see the DRS unveiled at our pop-up Co-op stores at four major music festivals this summer. The reverse vending machines will be installed on-site at our pop-up stores at Download (8-10 June), Latitude (12-15 July) and Reading and Leeds festivals (24-26 August).

Plastic bottles sold at the pop-up stores will have a mandatory deposit added to the price, with revellers able to return them to the reverse vending machine in exchange for a voucher to spend in the on-site stores. To close the loop in this trial, the bottles collected at each festival will then go on to be recycled to create bottles for Co-op own brand bottled water.

Jo Whitfield, Retail CEO, Co-op, said:

As the UK’s leading ethical retailer there’s nowhere better for us to start our trial of reverse vending machines than at some of the UK’s most well-loved festivals.

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. 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.

Melvin Benn, Managing Director of Festival Republic (part of Live Nation), said:

We welcome over 350,000 revellers across these four iconic festival sites. It’s absolutely fantastic to think that they will be amongst the first people in the UK to have the opportunity to recycle their plastic bottles simply and easily using the reverse vending machine, in addition to the existing deposit return schemes at the festivals.

Paul Ure, Managing Director of Recycling Options who are providing the machines with Envipco Holdings, added:

Recycling Options, in partnership with Envipco Holdings, is delighted to be supporting Co-op, the first UK retailer to showcase reverse vending solutions, at the innovative pop-up supermarkets this summer.

We’ve pledged to make 100% of our own-brand packaging easy to recycle by 2025 and will also eliminate the use of black and dark plastics from our shelves by 2020.

Read more about this summer’s DRS trial from Iain Ferguson, Environment Manager at Co-op, in his blog.

Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Nothing ventured – nothing gained. Delighted to see this initiative, even if it has teething problems at first. It’s things like this that make me proud to be a member of the Co-op.

  2. Interesting idea and definitely part of the solution, but how are you going to ensure that only bottles that form part of the DRS are placed in the recycling machines? Hundreds of thousands of bottles from other vendors will be knocking about and it seems fair to assume that quite a few of them might end up in the Co-op devices. Now I’m good with recycling the lot, but there will be a cost associated with this.

    • If done right, the none coop bottles should get rejected ie no voucher will be issued. whoever took this idea forward should also be aware that it will require a standby person cause the machines tends to get jammed!

  3. Why is a festival a good trial site? Why not a more realistic site more typical of our estate?

    You have 1000s of youngsters who you’ve asked to pay a premium for the product on justification they can recycle it. There’s a heightened expectation they will get their money back. Some of them also will scour the site for bottles if they can see a profit in it for them.

    I’d be surprised if the machine could cope with the volume it’s likely to get. There will be 1000s of bottles available – festivals are literally carpeted with plastic bottles by the end of the night.

    Or will we be screening the bottles presented for recycling – only Co-op bottles are eligible?
    That’ll be a nice job for someone.

  4. In my younger days all ‘take away’ drinks ie, fizzy drinks, were bought in glass bottles, a deposit was returned when the bottle was returned to the seller, vendor, the bottle was either cleaned and re-used or re-cycled depending on its condition, the re-cycling was done via numerous glass works throughout the country creating jobs for the populace, so, why not use glass nowadays instead of plastic which is made from non renewable sources and, does not break down which, as we are all aware, can cause untold damage to our increasingly threatened environment. Any thoughts ?

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for your comment. The Co-op has pledged to make 100% of its own-brand packaging easy to recycle by 2025 and will also eliminate the use of black and dark plastics from its shelves by 2020. We recently announced that we’re switching all our own-brand water bottles to 50% recycled plastic this year. We estimate this will save almost 350 tonnes of plastic annually when we make the change. I know it’s not a direct answer to your question, but we’re really working hard to reduce the use of plastic at Co-op.

    • Glass is HEAVY. Like, 10 times heavier than plastic. The environmental impact from transporting it would far outweigh whatever benefit there is from using it over plastic. Also glass bottles can’t be crushed. This is also why I’m dead against Primark’s use of paper bags. They, too, are extremely heavy and big to transport, compared to plastic bags. Biodegradable plastics would surely be a better solution. I never see anybody using a primark bag more than once, so bio plastic would be perfect here.

  5. This is a good thing – but to have such fanfare as the ‘first’ when we are so far behind many other European retailers with this is a bit rich (even if factually true for the UK). I get the logic of doing it at a pop-up event, but ultimately, that could backfire as it’s seen as a gimmick – the real test, and behaviour change we need to see, is to have this in normal stores and communities to get this off the ground. Now, why am I reminded of my Unigate milkman and their deposit returns on bottles of pop…

    • Hi, thanks for showing your support for DRS. We agree – we strongly advocate the use of DRS and these trials will help us understand how to realise their potential at Co-op, but also set a precedent for other businesses to follow. Festivals are a great testing ground for these machines, as a fantastic way to both help reduce plastic waste and test the waters with shoppers. Once the trial’s completed, we’ll look to use the machines in further trials within more standard Co-op stores.

  6. Great, exactly how the Co-op should be leading the way on this. Good work.

  7. I think the vouchers should be able to be used at any store. If people only attend 1 day they may not wish to spend their money in the on-site Coop, as are about to leave. Similarly, on the last day people are likely to return bottles but may not want to buy more.

    • Hi Laura, thanks for showing your support. As this is a trial, the conditions are somewhat controlled. After trying out the DRS this summer, we’ll look to use the machines in further trials within more standard Co-op stores. We’re really keen to see DRS work for us and our industry, and these trials will help us to understand how best to support that ambition.

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