Commercial District
Circular Initiative: Single Use Plastic
An exploration of attitudes and perceptions towards a deposit return scheme within a complex commercial environment, to tackle single use plastics.



As the spotlight turned on single use plastics following BBC’s Blue Planet II, this initiative aimed to explore attitudes and perceptions towards a Reverse Vending Machine within a complex commercial environment. This was the first Deposit Return enabled Reverse Vending Machine in England, located in a prominent area of a retail shopping centre within a major commercial district in London. Each time the machine was successfully used, a coupon was generated which offered a discount on products at a nearby retailer of healthy food and drinks.



The trial proved the following outcomes:

  • A Reverse Vending Machine achieves an exceptionally clean stream of plastics, with very low rates of contamination.
  • Usage was high and frequent, with over 1,000 transactions almost immediately.
  • Incentives were important to those using the machine – even a small discount as a means of reward for the correct behaviours was enough to drive repeated use.
  • The profile gained from the initiative spearheaded an estate wide survey on plastics and award-winning single use plastics strategy across the entire commercial district.



An initial survey across the commercial district, taken the year prior, identified single use plastics as the biggest issue concerning workers within the district population. A follow-up suggestion of a Deposit Return Machine was then explored as a possible demonstration project on how Reverse Vending Machines could be successfully installed, used and maintained within a thriving place-based ecosystem. The decision was taken to deliver this initiative over a period of 4 months.


Key players

Initially, a Senior Director assumed the role of project sponsor and a project team was assembled comprising the product supplier and representatives from energy and environment, retail, facilities, waste management, corporate sustainability and communications and the company’s external sustainability engagement consultants.



A site visit was arranged to Norway where the machine was produced, with visits to local retailers and supermarkets to understand how the machine works and the maintenance requirements of the retailer teams.

Over a 6 week period, a suitable location was selected based on the flow of shoppers through the retail centre. Additionally, retailers were engaged to sign them onto the initiative – meaning that they would be offering discounts to people who collected the coupon from using the machine.

The launch was then staggered into 2 phases. The first phase was a soft launch, where the machine was put into the location with supporting information on the purpose of the initiative. However, the machine was not open for use. During this time, a cleaning and maintenance regime was developed with the retail facilities team.

The second phase followed a week later, with the machine open for public use. As the machine started being used, there was an ongoing flurry of social media activity which led to a number of important site visits from major retail companies and local authorities and extensive media coverage.


Lessons learned 

This initiative provided the impetus to further develop the sustainability programme to tackle single use plastics on a wider scale, which eventually lead to a ground-breaking programme to eliminate single use plastics across the entire commercial district.