Recycle your plastic bottles and get paid for it with new 'reverse vending machines'

Recycle your plastic bottles and get paid for it with new 'reverse vending machines'

Swire Coca-Cola aims to change Hongkongers' attitude toward recycling by making it easier and more convenient than ever

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From left, William Yu, chief executive of World Green Organisation, Sunny Cheung, CEO of Octopus Cards, and Neil Waters, executive director at Swire Coca-Cola, at the launch of the reverse vending machines in Hong Kong.
Photo: SCMP/ May Tse

Not sure what to do with your plastic bottles? Now you can use them to make money. Swire Coca-Cola, a division of Swire Pacific and one of the largest Coca-Cola bottlers and distributors worldwide, on Thursday announced the launch of reverse vending machines that will add 20 HK cents to Octopus cards for every plastic bottle accepted by them.

Such machines are common in other markets, said Neil Waters, Swire Coca-Cola’s executive director, who described the roll out as a trial to see how consumer behaviour towards recycling in Hong Kong could be changed. The main question was if 20 HK cents were enough of a reward for people to turn in their plastic bottles.

“Today, the behaviour is not towards recycling, and we are trying to change that,” Waters said. He said he did not know how many plastic bottles the machine would get. “We will accumulate evidence and experience with the machines, and see what happens,” he added.

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The machines are activated with the touch of an Octopus card. The empty bottle is entered into a chute – bottles with liquid are recognised and rejected – and then crushed. Each machine can hold up to 400 bottles with 500ML capacity, Waters said. The technology behind the machines was developed by a Hong Kong company and the machines are manufactured by Cornerstone Technologies, a Hong Kong-based green technology company.

“We are seeing if the system is reliable, and then, if we can expand it. We are exploring other activities to collect or reduce plastics,” a Swire Coca-Cola spokeswoman said.

Ten machines will start operating at Discovery Bay Pier in Central, Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong, Metro Plaza in Kwai Fong, Taikoo Place in Quarry Bay, the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Sha Tin, The Mills in Tsuen Wan, TKO Plaza in Tseung Kwan O, V City in Tuen Mun and one each in Citygate and HKSKH Tung Chung Integrated Services in Tung Chung.

The one at Taikoo Place is already installed, the rest will be rolled out in the coming days.

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The crushed plastic bottles will end up at a new PET recycling plant that is expected to open in Hong Kong in the second half of 2020, by a joint venture between Swire, Baguio Waste Management & Recycling and Alba, a German company specialising in recycling facilities. Baguio will collect the plastic bottles from the machines.

Waters said the machines will collect plastic bottles from any brand, not just Swire’s, and that the recycling plant could be ramped up to process all of Hong Kong’s PET plastic bottles. A spokeswoman said the payment of 20 HK cents would come from Swire too.

In 2017, Hong Kong generated 50,000 tonnes of PET bottle waste, most of which was sent to landfills, and only 8.5 per cent was recovered for recycling. A 2018 report before the Legco described local plastic recycling as “almost non-existent”.

The World Green Organisation, an environmental agency in Hong Kong, released a survey in March this year showing that while 90 per cent of Hong Kong respondents agreed that PET bottles were a burden on society, 76.1 per cent said that “inconvenient locations and an insufficient quantity of recycling bins” were the reasons they did not recycle.

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