Read the exclusive interview with Thomas Morgensten, TOMRA's Vice-President for Government Affairs Europe and Central Asia, where he talked about the importance of the partnership with Nova SBE, how deposit return systems work, and how, much like Nova SBE, TOMRA is embedding sustainability into its strategy and core activities.
How did the partnership with Nova School of Business & Economics (Nova SBE) come about, and how important is this for TOMRA, the well-known Norwegian multinational specializing in recycling solutions?
New legislation in Portugal will introduce a deposit return system nationwide in 2022 to increase the collection and recycling of beverage containers and combat drink container litter. The project was a great opportunity to promote the understanding of deposit return in a country not yet familiar with the concept, put a true deposit system into action, and try out using the technology that is often part of collection infrastructure.
Partnering with Nova SBE was a natural fit for this project because of the university’s own sustainability initiatives and goal to be a living lab of solutions for the future. Nova SBE’s program is a landmark installation that can truly showcase for both the local community and the entire country how deposit return systems work – and the impact these systems can have on plastic collection rates, recycling and resource usage, and the natural environment.
How unique and important are mandatory container deposit schemes?
Container deposit return schemes work by adding a small, fully-refundable deposit on top of a beverage price – such as those in plastic and glass bottles and aluminum cans – which is refunded to the consumer when they return the empty bottle or can for recycling. Think of it as buying the beverage but borrowing the container.
Deposit return systems are vital and unique in the results they deliver. The European average collection rate for PET plastic beverage containers in a curbside system is 47 %, versus 94 % in deposit return systems. In the US, on average, 72 % of deposit containers are collected for recycling, compared to just 27 % of containers without a deposit.
The results that deposit return systems uniquely achieve is increasing the popularity of these systems around the world. In 2017 the UN Environment Assembly passed a resolution encouraging members to adopt “innovative” approaches to marine pollution, like container deposit systems. The Single-Use Plastics Directive adopted in 2019 by the European Union has set a target for member states to collect 90 % of all plastic bottles by 2029, which experts say is difficult to achieve without a container deposit system.
Nova SBE has officially launched the first pilot project in the country, thanks to TOMRA’s reverse vending machines. By expanding its leading recovery system to Education, what does TOMRA plan to achieve with the project?
A key goal for the initiative is education: what are deposit return systems, what are the technologies that enable them, and what environmental impact these programs can achieve. And what better location to drive education than through a university, and at a university with its own passion for the environment and strong international reputation. The program brings an opportunity to teach students the value of “waste” and the importance of a circular economy. Nova SBE’s location right by the ocean also reinforces the importance of collecting these containers and ensuring plastic doesn’t end up littering nature and the local environment.
TOMRA has long seen the great importance of educational institutions in driving a broader understanding of deposit return systems. Scotland is also set to go live with its deposit return system in 2022, and TOMRA has worked on an on-campus reverse vending initiative for several years with Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
Educational institutions, private companies, and the public sector all have a role in leading by example. In fact, as well as the two TOMRA reverse vending machines set up at Nova SBE, a further two are being piloted in the civic buildings of Cascais Ambiente, giving local government workers an opportunity to try out deposit return systems. For plastic to remain in a closed loop on a much larger scale, it requires a collaborative approach from industry, government, policymakers, and consumers, with all parties playing their role in the resource revolution.
How is TOMRA leading the recovery revolution, and what are the company’s next steps?
TOMRA works toward people and the planet. Our ambition is to be a leader in the resource revolution, which we seek to achieve through our sensor-based solutions. TOMRA technology enables the circular economy with advanced collection and sorting systems that optimize resource recovery and minimize waste in the food, recycling, and mining industries. Providing smart solutions for optimizing our resources – sourcing them, using them, stewarding them, reclaiming them, recycling them, and revitalizing them – is key to the resource revolution. This is not new to us. TOMRA has been in this business for more than 40 years. We know that in order to move forward, we all need to rethink and rework how things have been in the past. In short, our next steps are working to help our partners industry obtain more, use less, and reuse resources – for better business and a better planet.
Nova SBE is taking a stand by making the 17 Sustainable Development Goals its official language and putting sustainability at our impact model's center. And what about TOMRA? Has the UN's global commitment increased the opportunity for TOMRA to have a positive impact across a number of the SDGs?
TOMRA is determined to take on its responsibility to deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As a leader in the resource revolution, sustainability is at the very core of our business. With our solutions for optimal resource productivity, we can support the transformation to a circular, low-carbon, and more sustainable economy. SDG 12, “Responsible Consumption and Production,” is where we believe TOMRA can deliver the most significant value. By the very nature of TOMRA’s business, we deliver positive impacts on several SDG 12 targets, such as sustainably managing natural resources, reducing food waste and loss, preventing and reducing waste through recycling, and forming partnerships educate others.
In every sector where we operate, TOMRA wants to transform how the world obtains, uses, and reuses its resources. TOMRA also seeks to contribute to the SDGs for Zero Hunger; Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Climate Action; and Life Below Water.
By embedding sustainability into our strategy and core business activities, TOMRA is doing our bit to create long-term value and support environmental goals. We’re looking forward to joining others on the journey, including partners like Nova SBE.