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Researcher suggests using reverse vending machines to solve plastic bottle crisis

Published:Friday | July 27, 2018 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer

While there has been an apparent consensus on the need to address the growing crisis surrounding plastic bottle waste in the country, stakeholders continue to agonise over what method could be most appropriate to get citizens to recycle.

According to a researcher at the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), Dr Suzanne Shaw, a deposit-refund scheme could be established in the country whereby citizens could use a reverse vending machine to get repaid by depositing bottles, this after they would have been charged an initial mark-up on the bottle at the time of purchase.

"Ultimately, the lowest-cost model that we found was based on automated return using retailers such as supermarkets as return points," Shaw told a recent forum at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston. The machines would most likely issue vouchers.

She emphasised that from the CAPRI study, consumers were not willing to travel any more than five minutes to drop off a bottle, "which means convenience is a must".

According to Shaw, for the system to work in the Jamaican context with a take-up rate of about 80 per cent, each bottle would need to carry a return price tag of approximately $5.00.

Wisynco boss Williams Mahfood, who was at the forum, said that he would support the proposed reverse vending machine model, but he expressed concerns about the cost.

"We would need a minimum of a 100 of them to start. That's roughly $3 billion, or there about. Where is that capital going to come from?"

In responding, Shaw said that unredeemed deposit might be sufficient in the first instance to cover the cost of acquiring some machines. However, she stressed that acquiring the machines would be done on a phased basis.

Mahfood expressed confidence that the model could work and companies would be able to partner with retailers to have machines installed.

"I think we can leverage our relationship with the retail outlets to go them to take these machines. It's going to be difficult initially because many of them do not want the issue - even the glass bottles. A lot of that is because the public health authority pressures them for holding on to those materials," Mahfood said.

The issue of plastic bottles polluting the environment has taken centre stage in the country amid a global push for better control of the waste.