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Claim money back at French supermarkets by recycling plastic bottles

A startup hopes to improve PET recycling rates but some politicians oppose the venture

Only one in two water bottles is recycled in France; Emmanuelle Muchery, sales director for Greenbig, with one of the machines Pic: George Dolgikh / Shutterstock / Greenbig

Shoppers can now claim back a bit of money at the supermarket – by recycling plastic water bottles on-site.

Around 500 machines that shred plastic had been installed in shops by the end of last year, mainly in E.Leclerc and Super U branches.

They have been used by 3.5 million people and have shredded 120 million bottles.

Only one in two water bottles is recycled

The machines have been designed by a company called Greenbig, based in Rouen (Seine-Maritime), in an attempt to boost the number of plastic bottles being recycled.

Estimates suggest that only one in two water bottles is recycled, even though most are made out of the most easily recycled clear PET plastic.

France has signed up to an EU initiative that aims to see the percentage of plastic water bottles that are recycled rise to 77% by 2025.

Read more: Change to recycling rules in France and what can go in yellow bins

Plastic bottle-maker was short of PET plastic

Greenbig co-founder and president Benoît Paget said: “In 2017, I spoke to one of the big plastic bottle-makers who told me they were short of basic PET plastic for recycling because so many bottles in France are just not recycled.

“We came up with the idea of shredding them, making it a fun experience, and at the same time greatly reducing the volumes to transport.

“But it is not straightforward. We are a startup, but unlike many, we are dealing with physical machines that have to work, not just software you cannot touch, although that too is very important for us.”

 €0.02 back for each container

The machines, called B:bots, take all plastic drink bottles, using electronic scanners to check they are made of PET. 

Users receive up to €0.02 for each container and the accumulated savings can be converted into a donation to a charity or a voucher valid at the point of sale.

An added attraction is that as the bottles are shredded, it is possible to see the ‘straws’ fall into a transparent bin, often fascinating children.

The machines, which should pay for themselves within two or three years, are either bought by the supermarket or owned by Greenbig, with profits from the shredded PET distributed accordingly.

Read more: France moves to introduce glass deposit scheme in supermarkets

Claims machines divert funds from local authorities

The scheme has not been without controversy. 

Some politicians have called for the machines to be banned, claiming they divert funds from local authorities in charge of rubbish collection by removing higher-value plastic bottles from yellow home recycling bags.

“Essentially, we are complementary to local authorities,” Mr Paget insisted

“The percentage of bottles being recycled by local authorities was low, so anything to improve that must be a good thing.”

The machines are made in France, with final assembly in a factory run by the Japanese company Toshiba in Dieppe.

Collection and delivery of the shredded plastic to recycling depots is organised by Greenbig, which uses empty supermarket delivery trucks to keep CO2 emissions down.

Other European countries, including Ireland, have also started using the machines.

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French homeowners challenge ‘pay per bag’ waste charge

Do you need to clean out containers before recycling in France?

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