Resource Use

Coca-Cola encourages plastic recycling at theme parks

A unique initiative by Coca-Cola will see thrill-seekers at the UK’s top theme parks rewarded for recycling single-use plastic bottles.

The company has teamed up with Merlin Entertainments, which runs visitor attractions across Europe, to offer a 50 per cent discount on tickets to UK days out. Visitors to four UK theme parks owned by Merlin (Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Legoland and Chessington World of Adventures) will be able to take advantage of the scheme between 25 July 2019 and 19 October 2019.

For every plastic bottle handed in via a reverse vending machine, of which there are 14 across the four sites, customers will receive one 50 per cent off voucher, which can be redeemed not only in Merlin theme parks but across 30 attractions including Madame Tussauds, the London Eye, the London Dungeons and the SEA LIFE aquarium brand.

Theme parks offer incentives for recycling plastic bottles
The reverse vending machines will crush the plastic bottles and offer a voucher in return

It is not clear if the machines, which are sponsored by Coca-Cola, will accept any type of bottle purchased on site or only those with Coca-Cola branding. Leendert den Hollander, Vice President & General Manager at Coca-Cola European Partners, commented: “Through this exciting new trial with Merlin Entertainments we hope to remind people how valuable their empty plastic bottle is. All of our bottles can be recycled and we want to get as many of them back as possible so they can be turned into new bottles and not end up as litter.”

Coca-Cola, which according to Greenpeace produced more than 100 billion plastic bottles worldwide in 2016, has given its support publicly for the concept of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers in the UK – a U-turn from its position in 2015 when it said a DRS would not reduce packaging use. Now, the company has commissioned research from YouGov that apparently shows 64 per cent of consumers would recycle more ‘on the go’ if they were offered an instant reward for doing so.

Plans are moving forward in the UK for a national deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks bottles, which would most likely involve a small charge being added to the price of drinks containers (potentially plastic bottles and metal cans) that could then be recouped if the bottles are returned to a secure collection point, potentially using a reverse vending machine like the ones installed by Coca-Cola.

Ministers from the UK, Welsh and Scottish governments, as well as representatives from Northern Ireland, met on 6 July to discuss plans for a collective DRS for the whole of the UK, though the devolved governments are continuing their explorations into separate schemes alongside this. Environment Secretary Michael Gove told MPs in April that an English DRS could be in place by 2020.

Growing awareness of the scale of the plastic pollution problem has led a number of businesses to implement bottle return schemes of their own while governments remain in the discussion stage – although these commercial ventures differ from proposed national schemes in that they don’t require the consumer to pay a deposit on the items.

The Iceland chain of supermarkets, for instance, was the first UK retailer to introduce a reverse vending machine in one of its London stores, a trial which has since been extended to three more stores in Wolverhampton, North Wales and Edinburgh. The supermarket is rewarding customers with a 10 pence money-off voucher for every bottle returned (provided the bottle has an Iceland barcode).

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