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Reverse Vending 101: A beginner’s guide

Wondering what a reverse vending machine is, how it works, or what happens to your bottles and cans after you return them for recycling? Check out this introduction to reverse vending.

15 August 2017

Image of how a reverse vending machine works

What is a reverse vending machine?

A reverse vending machine is a machine where people can return empty beverage containers like bottles and cans for recycling. The machine often gives back a deposit or refund amount to the end user. This is what makes it a “reverse” vending machine: instead of the user putting in money and getting out a product (like at a candy vending machine), the user puts a product in and gets out a monetary value. 

Reverse vending systems are an automated way to collect, sort and handle the return of used drink containers. The first fully-automated reverse vending machine was created by TOMRA in 1972. Reverse vending machines are especially common in regions with container deposit laws (where you get money back for returning certain containers) or mandatory recycling legislation.

The name of reverse vending machines is sometimes shortened to RVMs. They are also known as redeem machines, recycling returns machines, or can and bottle recycling machines. 

 

How does a reverse vending machine work?

Recycling your empties is as easy as 1-2-3.

Image of how does a reverse vending machine work

  1. Insert your empty containers into the chute at the front of the reverse vending machine.
  2. When you’re finished, tap the button at the front of the machine.
  3. Take the receipt that the machine prints out. (In regions with container deposit laws, the receipt shows the value of your recycling refund, which can usually be redeemed at the cash register.) 

 

As you insert your containers, the reverse vending machine will scan the containers’ barcodes, materials or shapes, to identify the type of packaging and give the correct deposit refund. The machine will then sort the containers into different types. Depending on the containers in your region, refillable containers are moved to one storage area in the machine, while containers that can’t be refilled are crushed and stored in different bins. 

 

What happens to a bottle or can when it is recycled?

Refillable containers are transported back to the bottle or beverage producer for cleaning and refilling. Non-refillable containers are taken to a processing facility for washing and shredding, to go into the production of new containers. The materials must meet regulations for quality and hygiene in order to be used as new drink containers.

Image of what happens to a bottle or can when it is recycled

 

Why use a reverse vending machine?

Reverse vending machines are a key part of container deposit systems, which see 70% to almost 100% of all drink containers returned for recycling. No other waste collection system comes even close to beating it! TOMRA’s reverse vending machines receive more than 35 billion used containers every year.

Reverse vending machines benefit the environment, end users and the sites collecting bottles and cans for recycling.

Better for the environment: 

  • Image of environmentSeparate beverage containers by material type (PET, glass, aluminium).
  • Ensure clean, quality materials that can be used again and again to make new containers. At TOMRA, we call this Cleanest Loop recycling
  • Reduce need for raw materials in making more containers, and need for landfills.
  • Keeps litter and waste out of groundwater, oceans and streets.

Convenient for end users: 

  • Image of end usersAre often located at grocery retail stores, making it convenient to return containers for recycling. 
  • Are fast and clean, so recycling is more enjoyable. 
  • Offer a personal rewards program at TOMRA machines, where consumers earn points for the containers they recycle, to redeem for rewards or donate to charity. 
  • Get recyclers engaged in shaping a better environment.

Efficient for business:

  • Image of businessMake recycling collection cleaner and streamlined. 
  • Reduce time and mess of staff manually handling and counting containers.
  • Let staff focus on other tasks.
  • Ensure recycling stations take up less physical space on site.
  • Give more storage capacity with compaction and reduces transport needs for containers.
  • Are easy for operators to handle, clean and maintain.

 

Take your empty bottles and cans to your nearest reverse vending machine. Happy recycling!