Consumer Products

Is recycling going full cycle?

By Catherine Joce - Last updated: Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Is it me or is recycling hitting the headlines almost every week? This week Sky News reported on plans to introduce a deposit scheme for plastic bottles deposit scheme for plastic bottles in Scotland. Customers would pay a small surcharge which is refunded when a bottle is returned to a shop.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastic Economy Initiative, only 10% of plastic packaging produced globally is recycled. Even worse only 2% is recycled in a “closed loop,” fashion, in other words into an application at the same or similar quality. Creative thinking is required to crack the recycling challenge to improve the status quo.

Plastics recycling Click to enlarge. | Image Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Plastic packaging clearly brings huge benefits: packaging preserves the contents within (which of course themselves have a carbon footprint), plastic is a lightweight material so contributes to reducing transport-related greenhouse gas emission and also has many social benefits such as convenience to the consumer. But those consumers are becoming more conscious of the downside of plastic packaging, in particular the shocking accumulation of plastics in the world’s oceans.

Plastic bottles on beach

Despite the concerns of consumers, the BBC reported that the Scottish Retail Consortium described the proposals as “unnecessary, anachronistic, and expensive”.

“We know this scheme will be hugely expensive for retailers, costing tens of millions to install reverse vending machines, cannibalising profitable floor space for unprofitable waste machines, disrupting operations and hugely inconveniencing customers.” Ewan MacDonald-Russell, Head of Policy and External Affairs at the Scottish Retail Consortium

Creative thinking to solve the recycling conundrum

Clearly retailers – operating in highly competitive markets – should not be forced to support proposals that could negatively impact their business. But with a bit of creative thinking, I believe the system could be implemented in such a way that it would generate genuine value for the retailers.

At Cambridge Consultants we’ve been thinking about ways to help brands and retailers communicate with consumers at the final stage of their product’s life – disposal. We have developed a smarter recycling point which incentives consumers to recycle by providing rewards. Crucially the system also collects data about where and when consumers are consuming products to generate useful consumer insight for brands. We believe our system is much more than a reverse vending machine occupying valuable floor space – instead we’ve developed a tool to help retailers and brands understand more about their customer’s patterns of consumption and disposal, whilst extending interaction along the customer journey and driving brand loyalty. Find out more about our smarter recycling point project.


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AuthorCatherine Joce


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