Shell and Roadchef promote recycling on forecourt with Unisan reverse vending initiative

Posted on: 6th December 2018

Shell and Roadchef are promoting recycling on the forecourt in the UK in pioneering reverse vending partnerships with the bins and waste recycling specialist Unisan. 

Roadchef installed two of Unisan’s CafeCrush reverse vending machines at its Maidstone Services, Kent, in June 2018 as part of a #DriveDownLitter campaign, created by the environmental campaign charity, Hubbub, and supported by Shell and Costa Express.

The CafeCrush machines reward people for recycling. At the Roadchef site, users simply insert either a plastic bottle or cup into the machine, where it is crushed, and they are issued with an incentive. In Roadchef’s case, a 5p money-off voucher, which can be redeemed at the Motorway Services site.

While the #DriveDownLitter campaign was devised to encourage road users to dispose of their rubbish responsibly – as well as being an eyesore and harmful to wildlife, litter causes accidents when thrown from vehicles and removing litter from motorways is estimated to cost £6m a year with more than 200,000 sacks of refuse collected annually – it has wider environmental benefits.

See how it works here:

Jon Dormer, managing director at Unisan UK, supplier of the CafeCrush reverse vending machines, explains: “The way the machine works means the bottles are not contaminated by other waste and so, are perfect for recycling. Also, because they are crushed, reducing waste volume by up to 90%, more bottles can be stored and therefore less transportation is needed to get them to recycling facilities – a win for consumers and the environment.”

Now Dormer reveals Roadchef plans to install two larger CafeCrush reverse vending machines at its Sandbach Services site on the M6 in Cheshire on 30 January 2019 in a significant recycling campaign, backed this time by Coca-Cola and in collaboration with Costa Coffee. The units will feature Coca-Cola and Costa branding and are designed to recycle PET bottles and coffee cups.

Shell, meanwhile, launched a CafeCrush machine for plastic bottles and cans at its Regent Street forecourt location in Leeds last month (November 2018). It issues users with a 10p coupon reward.

According to Dormer, Leeds was singled out for its participation in another Hubbub campaign, #Leedsbyexample, which aims to improve the recycling of food and drink packaging currently disposed of on-the-go across the City.

The initiative has introduced recycling bins across Leeds City Centre and seen Unisan’s CafeCrush machines launched at Beckett University, Kirkgate Market and within Trinity Kitchen, the food and beverage concept within the Trinity Leeds shopping centre; in addition to the Shell site.

While the Shell machine does issue a paper coupon, Dormer acknowledges it is less environmentally damaging than a complete bottle. However, he adds that an app-based solution will be introduced in the New Year, which will enable points to be uploaded to smart phones versus the voucher system. Further, an ‘intelligent’ sorting machine is on the cards, which can automatically scan and reject the wrong plastics.

In the meantime, the existing technology is winning traction in the UK market. Dormer’s posting of the Shell machine video on LinkedIn has received more than 31,000 views, for example. “The population are glad to see something happening,” he says. Like Andrew Thornton at Thornton’s Budgens, which has introduced plastic-free zones in his supermarket, Dormer believes the BBC’s Blue Plant II programme has been the game changer.

“Environmental issues regarding plastic packaging have always been there but there’s been no real appetite to do something about it until Blue Planet II. Now the majors are facing so much pressure from their customers, they have got to be seen to be doing something,” he says.

Coca-Cola’s involvement with Roadchef in reverse vending looks set to spark further interest and engagement in recycling and comes hot on the heels of the drinks brand’s high profile summer campaign with the theme park owner, Merlin Entertainments. Again, Unisan was involved in the initiative, which saw its CafeCrush reverse vending machines introduced at four of Merlin’s leading attractions. Those visitors who deposited empty bottles were instantly rewarded with a voucher to receive 50% off the entry fee at 30 participating Merlin attractions including LEGOLAND, Alton Towers Resort, THORPE PARK Resort and Chessington Wold of Adventures.

The reverse vending trial followed Coca-Cola Great Britain research, which showed 64% of Brits would recycle more on-the-go if they were rewarded instantly for their actions.

It was also the first in the country to offer people a more valuable reward than the original purchasing price of the plastic drinks bottle they recycle, as the 50% off voucher equated to a saving of up to £30 when buying a Merlin attraction day pass.

Coca-Cola said the Merlin partnership formed part of the GB business’s sustainable packaging strategy and global goal to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one it sells, by 2030, to help ensure a world without waste.

Jon Woods, general manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain, said: “We want to reward people for doing the right thing by recycling their bottles and hope to encourage some people who wouldn’t otherwise have done so. 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.

“We buy more recycled plastic in the UK than any other company and we are in the process of doubling the recycled plastic in all our bottles from 25% to 50% by 2020. We’re also running television campaigns encouraging people to recycle, putting clear recycling messages across all of our packs and we’re supportive of new interventions, such as deposit return schemes, to see if they improve recycling rates.”

Dormer underscores the significance of the Coca-Cola and Merlin tie up in raising consumer awareness around recycling. “THORPE PARK alone attracts 40,000 visitors a day,” he says.

Unisan’s CafeCrush machines seem up to the task, however. Dormer reports the company’s standard machines, like the model on the Shell forecourt in Leeds, can accept approximately 400 500ml plastic bottles; while the larger, Maxi machines, can accept approximately 800 500ml bottles.

Domer also calls for a sense of perspective regarding the plastics and recycling debate. “Some people view plastic as evil but it’s a very useful product if it’s recycled in a responsible way,” he says. “We try to steer the middle line between what’s practical and environmental.”

• While significant, reverse vending is a small part of the overall Unisan business, which is largely focused on recycling bins and includes the innovative Longopac quick bin system, which is used for back of house bags in supermarket, foodservice and workplace environments. Greggs, for example, has reported a 30% reduction in overall waste costs using the Longopac system.


Bona Design Lab