Japan has one of the highest rates of PET bottle recycling in the world. According to The Council for PET Bottle Recycling, about 92% of PET bottles were collected and 84% recycled in 2017.
In other regions, collection rates are approximately 40% in Europe and 20% in US, with recycling rates even lower
However, most are not recycled back into PET bottles, and are often remade into other materials such as sheets and fibres. The bottle-to-bottle rate in Japan is around 12.5%.
“In order to increase recycling rates, it is necessary to make it more convenient for consumers to participate in the recycling process, and we believe that collection at convenience stores will be effective as a 24-hour PET collection service,” Akihiko Koyama, corporate communications senior manager at Kirin Holdings said.
At present, the firms are trialing the collection machine at one location, the Lawson Yokohama-Shinkoyasu store.
How it works
The process starts with consumers washing and removing the labels on used PET bottles.
These bottles are then fed into the collection machine which can take between 100mL to 2,000mL bottles and crushes them.
These crushed bottles will be collected by Kirin workers already out in the field, replenishing vending machines in the area.
To improve the efficiency of transportation, the collected PET bottles will be transported to the recycling plant using the existing route of Kirin's vending machine operation company.
The recycling plant will then turn these collected bottles into resin, which will be reused as food-grade recycled PET bottles for beverage manufacturers. Kirin will use the material for its green tea product range.
For consumers, they will be awarded one Lawson Ponta point for every five PET bottles collected.
Yayoi Sugihara, corporate communications senior manager at Lawson, told FoodNavigator-Asia: “Consumers say that it is convenient to have a place nearby where they can have their items collected whenever they want. They also enjoy participating in recycling because they can earn points by collecting items.”
Although PET bottle collection machines are not new in Japan, the collection machine developed by Kirin is designed to remove remaining liquid from the PET bottle by turning the mouth of the bottle downward when it is inserted.
Kirin and Lawson are trialing this initiative and monitoring the number of bottles being collected.
“At present, we are checking consumer usage data and machine operation data, and are making modifications to make the collection machine safer and more convenient as we go along,” Koyama said.
“Depending on the results of this experiment, we plan to expand to about five stores within this year.”
Lawson has about 15,000 stores nationwide. The initiative will run until 2022, and based on the findings, will decide whether to expand their efforts.
Both companies are part of the Mitsubishi Group, which is ramping up efforts companywide to recycle PET bottles.