Reverse Vending Machines tackle plastic card pollution

NatWest Bank has launched a ‘first-of-its kind’ network of Reverse Vending Machines to help tackle the ever-growing mountain of plastic card waste.

The machines offer a secure, eco-friendly way to recycle unwanted bank, loyalty and gift cards, which have generated over 380 tonnes of plastic waste destined for landfill since 2017, due to lack of eco-friendly alternatives.

As the world’s first public banking machines designed to ‘deliberately eat’ payment plastic in a fraud-secure and sustainable way, they can also accept card readers and plastic bottles for recycling.

The pilot scheme was launched in London, with the first machines (which are free for everyone to use) situated at Victoria Place and Canary Wharf Shopping Centres, and in Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals.

This follows trials at NatWest’s Edinburgh and London offices, where over 35,000 cards and 2,000 bottles have been recycled into 3,000 hats and pairs of socks, with hundreds donated to homeless and vulnerable communities across the capital.

NatWest also recently launched environmentally friendly debit and credit cards made of 86% recycled material – a move expected to save over 50 tonnes of PVC plastic.

New research from the bank has found that:

 Up to 65 million old cards are gathering dust in people’s homes or wallets.

 Over six million people wrongly assume that plastic cards are recyclable via traditional methods, leading to the contamination of an estimated 10.2 million batches of recycling, due to well-intentioned consumers throwing their cards into recycling bins.

 With 68% of people citing personal security as a main concern when binning their old payment cards, the practice of cutting them up and scattering the pieces across various bins to avoid fraud only exacerbates the problem, contaminating several batches of recycling at one time.

Alison Rose, CEO at NatWest Group said: “Recycling our plastic cards and card readers are just two simple ways to make a positive impact on plastic pollution in the UK.

“But we know that the recycling guidance can be unclear for customers due to the security concerns of council-run recycling pick-ups. That’s why we are tackling this issue head-on by piloting our Reverse Vending Machines near London’s busiest transport hubs and largest hospitals and introducing sustainable credit and debit cards to all our customers.”

The Reverse Vending Machines have been launched in partnership with sustainability brand Reborn.

Each card is shredded to wipe consumers’ details before the pieces are securely stored and only accessible by a designated driver. After pickup, the waste is transported by electric vehicles to a recycling plant, and the first batches are being repurposed into hats and socks.

Integrated blockchain technology linked to a purpose-built dashboard make it possible to track what the plastic from each machine has been made into, and the carbon and energy saved as a result.

Reborn founder Zak Johnson, said, “As plastic pollution continues to grow around the world it is now more important than ever to adjust our behaviour as humans and find better ways of recycling.

“The first step in most recycling is us, the consumer, so our mission has been to make recycling as simple and as easy as possible, placing Reverse Vending Machines in places you’re likely to pass to encourage use. We’re so excited to be embarking on this journey with NatWest and can’t wait to turn consumers’ plastic cards, card readers and bottles into reusable materials and even clothing.”

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