No fuss, no muss with reverse vending machines

I had never heard of ‘reverse vending machines’ until I read a Guardian story about how Kiel is the first German city to be declared “zero waste” by the environmental campaign group Zero Waste Europe. But I think it’s a brilliant idea.

“Reverse vending machines” in shops and public places automatically scan and sort bottles inserted into them, and dispense a voucher for the appropriate deposit.

It began in 1972 when a local grocer in Asker, Norway, wanted a machine that could quickly and easily take back empty bottles and deliver a deposit refund receipt. Brothers Petter and Tore Planke took on the challenge, and that marked the beginning of TOMRA.

More than 50 markets around the world now have deposit return systems up and running, and as these drink container recycling programs have grown in popularity, so too has the use of reverse vending machines

Deposit return systems – usually mandated by law – encourage and incentivize recycling by adding a deposit to the price of a drink, which is paid back to the consumer when they return their empty bottle or can to a retailer or collection point for recycling.

Store manager Caglar Cot

RVMs automate that process, making drink container returns quicker and more efficient for the retailer and consumer. Consumers can put drink containers into an RVM and it will do the rest – scanning, sorting, handling and refunding the deposit.

Germany has been a key market for TOMRA since the country implemented a deposit system for non-refillable containers in 2006. TOMRA delivered approximately 8,800 new reverse vending systems to Germany alone that year. 

Edeka Meyer’s Frischecenter, situated in Prisdorf near the city of Hamburg, introduced the TOMRA R1 reverse vending system – an innovative multi-feed solution – in March 2022. It’s the latest TOMRA technology.

Customers simply pour their bags of empty beverage containers into the large opening, and the machine takes care of the rest. (You can see it in action in a video here.) It automatically rotates and counts up to 100 bottles in just seconds, and then generates a deposit receipt.

This installation has transformed the process of returning empty beverage containers, and encouraged container returns in the rural community of Pinneberg.

As well as making it possible to collect one million containers in the first year, it has attracted more customers to the store. “The R1 has definitely brought us more customers who drop off empties here and then come and buy something in our store, that is definitely another added value for us”, says store manager Caglar Cot.

Cover image: Robin Mohr, TOMRA Sales representative in Germany

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