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How Reverse Vending Machines Are Set To Drastically Improve Malta’s Bottle Recycling Lethargy

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Photo left: Malta Clean Up, Photo Right: A reverse vending machine in Malaysia 

The Environment Ministry has laid out a detailed plan for a national deposit scheme that is intended to process 90% of all of Malta’s beverage bottles within three years. 

The scheme was originally pitched by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as solely a plastic bottle deposit scheme, but has now been expanded to include all types of beverage containers – including aluminium cans and glass bottles. 

The way it will work is quite simple. When purchasing beverages for their stock, retailers will be obliged to pay an extra 10c per bottle into a fund that will managed by a newly-set up Resource Recovery and Recycling Council. The 10c fee will then be passed onto consumers, with the consequence being that the shelf price of bottles will rise. However, people will then be able to redeem this fee when depositing their bottles into one of hundreds of reverse vending machines that will be set up in strategic spots across the island, including inside every supermarket. 

The machines will be set up and managed by a private operator, chosen by tender for a ten-year concession, who will profit by selling the bottles to recycling manufacturers abroad. 

The operator will be bound by extremely ambitious targets and will face a fine if it falls behind them. In its first year of operation, estimated to be 2019-20, it will have to process 70% of all bottles sold in Malta, rising to 80% in the second year of operation and 90% in the third year.  This is intended to incentivise the operator to quickly set up at least 350 vending machines across the island (1 machine per 1200 citizens) and more if required. 

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All supermarkets and retail outlets larger than 150 m2 will be obliged to make room for a machine, but the operator will compensate them €4 for every 1000 bottles deposited. While the onus for recycling will be purely on citizens, the Environment Ministry hopes that the promise of a fee will be enough to incentivise them to deposit their bottles and to pick up and deposit bottles that other people would have thrown on the floor. 

The Ministry is leaving it up to tenderers to design how their machines will operate in practice, but will favour models that are as simple as possible to use and that won’t refund people with physical cash. A possible system could involve people connecting to the machine with a mobile app and receiving a refund for their bottles directly into their PayPal accounts. 

To safeguard against people trying to cheat the system, all beverage bottles sold in the country will be marked with logos and Malta-specific barcodes that the vending machines will recognise before refunding consumers. 

Joseph Muscat last weekend said the time has come for Malta to seriously pull its socks up when it comes to recycling waste.

“Too few people take waste recycling seriously over here and even those who do recycle often recycle contaminated goods,” he said. “The deposit scheme is the most effective means of recycling, and while it may seem that the price of drinks will increase as a result, it will actually only increase for those who are careless with their waste.”  

Public consultation for this scheme is ongoing till 4th June. For more details, read the full document here 

READ NEXT: Maltese Man Literally Takes A Shit On Recycling

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