Northern Ireland

Plastic bottles swapped for vouchers at Iceland supermarket

Thousands of plastic drinks bottles are sold every day
Image caption Thousands of plastic drinks bottles are sold every day

A machine that rewards people for recycling their soft drink bottles is being trialled at a Belfast supermarket.

The electronic bottle bank scans the barcode and pays out a 10p store voucher on every one it accepts.

It will reject any containing liquid or plastic bottles containing products not stocked by the supermarket.

It is one of six machines being tried out at the firm's stores across the UK.

Image caption The machine will take soft drink bottles up to 3 litres

Supermarket chain Iceland said that since the project began last year, it has taken in 310,000 bottles and paid out £30,000 in vouchers.

It has now chosen the Park Centre store in west Belfast - the busiest of its 35 Northern Ireland stores - to extend the trial.

There is no cap on the number of bottles a user can recycle through the machine.

Image caption The machine scans a barcode and decides to accept or reject the bottle

Iceland spokesman Matt Downes said the company had been encouraged to trial the machines after the government announced plans to introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic, glass and metal single use drinks containers.

UK consumers go through an estimated 13 bn plastic drinks bottles a year, but more than three billion are incinerated, sent to landfill or left to pollute the streets, countryside and marine environment.

"The machines are set up to take soft drink bottles that we sell up to a size of three litres," Mr Downes said.

"To date, we've taken back 310,000 plastic bottles and that's 310,000 bottles that aren't littering out streets and being put into landfill."

Instead of the 10p store voucher, customers can opt to donate the cash to the company's nominated charity.

Image caption People can either take the cash or donate it to charity

But customers may need some convincing.

While one shopper approached by the BBC was enthusiastic, several others suggested it would be too much hassle to return their drinks bottles and that they would simply recycle them through their bin system.

Some smaller retailers in Northern Ireland have expressed caution about making such in-store recycling mandatory, saying the machines are expensive and there is limited space to store collected bottles.

Iceland is the second supermarket in Northern Ireland to make an effort to address consumers' concerns about plastic.

Image caption Only product lines sold in-store will be accepted by the machine

Last year, Lidl said it was removing black plastic from its fruit and vegetable products, with plans to eliminate it on other food by this summer.

It has also stopped selling single-use plastic drinking straws, disposable plates, cups and cutlery and has plans to stop the sale of plastic-stemmed cotton buds.

Such products are being replaced with biodegradable alternatives.

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