Reduce, Reuse, Recycle with Reverse Vending Machine

Nov. 08, 2021

Reverse vending machines offer an alternative method of recycling bottle containers in an efficient, convenient, and motivating manner. This mechanism is easy to manage, easy to place, efficient, and resourceful. Due to its simple process and positive intent to help the environment, reverse vending machines are gaining popularity worldwide.  


What is a reverse vending machine?

A reverse vending machine (RVM) is a device that takes out empty and used bottles or cans and returns money or other forms of rewards to the recycler based on the number of containers recycled. Although it was practical, it was very simple and one-dimensional - accepting only plastic bottles, one at a time. The machine could not accept other recycled materials, such as aluminum or glass, nor could it accept large quantities of bottles. To upgrade this equipment, in 1962, engineer Aage Tveitan created an advanced reverse vending machine. The device could then accept bottles made from different recyclable materials and multiple bottles at a time. This upgrade set the stage for the way our machines work today.

Reverse Vending Machine


How do they work?

Reverse vending machines operate through a series of steps. First, the recycler places an empty beverage container into the receiving hole. Then, the bottle or can is rotated so that the Universal Product Code (UPC) scanner can scan the bottle for the UPC code. This numeric code is assigned to each unique trade item to identify where it was manufactured. After the containers are scanned and identified, they are processed into a database to track the number of bottles the recycler is turning in. The beverage containers are then crushed into smaller sizes to allow for more storage capacity in the reverse vending machine. Recyclers can then choose which rewards they want. Finally, once the storage capacity is full, the


Environmental and economic advantages

There are several advantages to using reverse vending machines. One benefit is that they help the environment by recycling materials and reducing the need for raw materials to make new beverage containers. RVMs are also conveniently placed in public places such as grocery stores, gas stations, schools, parks, etc., making them easily accessible to users. They are easy to manage because the machine separates recyclable materials (plastic, glass, aluminum) rather than doing it manually. In addition, the RVMs have a capacity of 200 plastic beverage containers and 900 cans, which means these machines can hold a large amount of material before it needs to be emptied. While they can hold a lot of recyclable material, they are not huge machines and therefore do not take up a lot of space. In addition, RVMs can benefit businesses. Stores that have RVMs can offer store-specific incentives (i.e., coupons) so that customers who enjoy recycling through RVMs will come back regularly to recycle and shop.


Reverse Vending Machines vs. Regular Recycling

Although the primary goal of recycling bins, recycling centers, and RVMs is to recycle, each device has a different function. RVMs only accept beverage containers, while bins and centers can accept any recyclable material. RVMs are (mostly) mechanically separated, while bins and centers are manually separated. The problem with manual separation is that materials are often improperly separated or trash is thrown in with the materials. the RVM can only handle clean and empty bottles/cans. However, there is a convenience to manual separation: it is faster to discard material than to wait and process it into the RVM. On the other hand, the RVM and recycling centers are incentivized in a way that the bins are not. Finally, RVMs and recycling bins are located in convenient areas (supermarkets, schools, etc.), but recycling centers are rarely found in cities/towns because they take up a lot of space. Despite the different functions of these three devices, the materials they collect end up in the hands of the same recycling companies, so it is worthwhile to examine the benefits of both.   

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