Initiative aims for EU-wide adoption of reverse vending machines in supermarkets

Brussels, Belgium

European Citizens initiative #ReturnthePlastics has called for the introduction of reverse vending machines to collect plastic bottles in supermarkets all over Europe.


With the #ReturnthePlastics European Citizen's Initiative, the campaign requests the European Commission:

  1. To implement an EU-wide deposit-system to recycle plastic bottles
  2. To incentivize all EU Member states that supermarkets (chains) which are selling plastic bottles to install reverse vending machines for recycling the plastic bottles after being purchased and used by the consumer
  3. To make the plastic bottle producing companies pay plastic taxes for the recycling and deposit-system of the plastic bottles (under the principle that the polluter should pay)


Problem: What is the problem with plastics?

When plastics are not recycled or collected, they can end up in landfills or waterways. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for example, is an island of floating plastic in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii. With 80.000 tons of plastic, it is currently 3 times the size of France and accumulating rapidly. When the tidal waves break the plastics into smaller pieces overtime, animals like fish eat it, which is how microplastics end up on consumer plates. Scientific studies estimate that any person ingests on average 5 grams worth of microplastics a week (the equivalent of a credit card) through food consumption. Recently microplastics were found in a human placenta. This shows that plastics do not only affect the natural environments and animals, but also humans. The initiative needs to address the plastic pollution problem at the source.

Solution: What is the proposed solution?

#Returntheplastics proposes deposit system to recycle bottles in supermarkets

#Returntheplastics is an initiative with an innovative proposal: to recycle plastic bottles based on a 15 euro cents deposit fee for every plastic bottle purchase in the European Union. Once empty, the consumer can return the plastic bottle to a supermarket which has a reverse vending machine to collect bottles for recycling. When the consumer brings back the empty plastic bottle, the consumer receives the 15 euro cents deposit fee which can be spent again in the supermarket.

On 3 July 2021 the EU Directive on single-use plastics entered into force, which bans the 10 most common single-use plastic items (such as plates, cutlery, straws) in all EU member states, through a law approved by the European Parliament. However, plastic bottles which are among the most commonly used plastic products (it is estimated that globally 1 million bottles a minute are bought) and take up to 500 years to decompose, are not included in the single-use plastics ban. Therefore, the #ReturnthePlastics European Citizen’s Initiative proposes an EU Directive for a deposit system to allow consumers to conveniently return their plastic bottles to the supermarkets where they were purchased, to close the loop on the materials used for producing the bottles.

#ReturnthePlastics created a special logo that plastic PET-bottle producers can include on the label of the PET-bottles they produce. This logo indicates that a deposit of 15 euro cents will be paid with the purchase of the bottle by the consumer at the cashier. When scanning the barcode of the plastic bottle, the 15 euro cents deposit will automatically be added to the consumer’s bill, mentioning that this amount is the deposit fee for the plastic bottle purchase.

Throughout the EU, there are many examples of effective recycling systems. In Germany there is a dual system to recycle plastic bottles, first through sorting waste and secondly through a deposit-system whereby consumers pay a deposit fee when purchasing plastic bottles in the supermarket and then getting a voucher to spend in the same supermarket when returning the bottle to the reverse vending machine at the entrance. In Rome, a metro ticket fee can be paid (partially) with plastic bottles through reverse vending machines. With #ReturnthePlastics the campaign wants to create a recycling system that can be implemented in supermarkets in every country as the start of a global solution to plastic pollution.

Worldwide streets, landfills, oceans, forests, beaches are filled with plastic PET-bottles, which can take up to 450 years to decompose. This innovation will solve different issues all at once: the process of recycling requires less energy or raw materials than the production of entirely new bottles, plastic bottles will no longer be found as trash on the street but picked up instead and this system will create awareness about the environmental cost of the production of plastic on the planet.

The goal of the is to have implemented the #ReturnthePlastics recycling system for plastic bottles in 5 EU member states by the Climate Conference COP26 from 1-12 November 2021 in Glasgow and later in all 26 EU member states. The initiative hopes to become a global movement of change for refusing, recycling and reducing plastic in a fight against plastic pollution.

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