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Recycle and reward pilot projects report

Incentives can boost the recycling of single-use drinks containers and help to reduce littering

In 2013, Zero Waste Scotland funded a number of ‘recycle and reward’ pilot projects to test the increase in recycling of single use drinks containers through offering incentives. This followed a Scottish Government manifesto commitment to pilot such systems and support the development of a home-grown closed loop re-processing infrastructure in Scotland. It also reflects the national litter strategy, which notes that litter can be turned into a resource for Scotland and highlights the need to explore options for boosting the quantity, quality and range of materials recycled.

The projects were set in a number of different ‘on-the-go’ locations such as universities, schools and shops as well as a festival and a recycling centre. Eight organisations were supported across 12 different test sites in Scotland.

Two of the projects were deposit return schemes, where consumers pay extra when purchasing an item then have it refunded when they return the container to be recycled. The other schemes all offered a simple reward for returning a container. All the schemes used reverse vending machines in their operation.

Results

Some sites were quite isolated, or only accepted containers sold on site into the scheme. Others were open and allowed on-site containers to be taken away and off-site containers to be brought in. These contextual factors were hugely influential, and the volumes of containers sold and recycled across sites varied enormously.  

One consistent measure of the performance of each scheme is the capture rate of containers for recycling as a proportion of those sold on site. 

  • At the top end, the three-day HebCelt festival enjoyed a return rate of 63%;
  • One of the lowest levels recorded was 18%;
  • One of the school sites recorded over 100% due to additional material being brought on site

The pilot projects showed that incentivised recycling can be made to work but that site-specific solutions are essential. One size does not fit all. The challenges and opportunities that emerged from the testing would apply to any site implementing incentivised, or machine-based, recycling - alone or as part of a wider scheme.

Impact on litter

  • The impact on litter was seen as a small benefit by most users (but was identified, unprompted, at all sites, even those where the logic of the site would suggest a litter impact might not be expected).
  • There was some evidence that the schemes had reduced litter at the university sites, though other factors may have contributed Further work would be needed to understand variations in littering.
  • In some cases, the machines may have reduced the burden on site staff in terms of litter picking. The primary example of this was the HebCelt festival, where it was felt litter-picking requirements were significantly reduced compared with previous years.
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