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TOMRA Collection leader: “We have never seen as many opportunities as we do now”

From starting a green movement almost single-handedly back in 1972, TOMRA today has a world-leading position in reverse vending solutions and recycling. We spoke with the head of TOMRA Collection Solutions, who has responsibility for the more than 75,000 reverse vending machines TOMRA has around the world.

12 oktober 2017

Harald Henriksen, Head of TOMRA Collection Solutions

(This article was first published in Norwegian innovation magazine Innomag, 5 October 2017, written by Truls Berg. It is translated and re-published with Innomag's permission.) 

We met a leader with clear thoughts on the company’s path, and – with over 13 years’ experience in the TOMRA Collection Solutions business unit – Harald Henriksen is highly focused on the company’s long-term strategy and initiatives toward new technologies.

The reverse vending giant – which was started by entrepreneur brothers Tore and Petter Planke – today has a market share of more than 75% on a global basis and is the largest player in the space. With the growth of big data and digitalization, new opportunities are arising for optimizing the use of reverse vending machines. Henriksen speaks with enthusiasm about the future: “We have never seen as many opportunities as we do now. What we do today will pale compared to what can happen in the future,” he explains.

Aiming to be more user oriented

TOMRA’s business model for reverse vending solutions has – despite developments on the technology front – to a large extent been the same since the company began 45 years ago. They sell a reverse vending machine, and enter a service-level agreement that is independent of the number of users and how many containers are returned. Wishing now to orient themselves more toward the end user represents a strategic shift for the company.

“We want to use the opportunities of digitalization to create more relevant and personal user journeys, so that it becomes more attractive to return containers, in order to increase the collection rate globally. We believe there are huge possibilities in the 2-3 billion TOMRA user sessions that take place every year,” says Henriksen.

The company sees enormous opportunity in digitalization and big data, and is now making significant investments in that area. The ambition level is high: the goal is that more than half of TOMRA’s 75,000 reverse vending machines will be connected, interactive and ready to deliver new digital services before New Year’s fireworks hit the ground.

Testing a new innovative solution in the US

In Michigan in the United States, the company is working these days on a pilot program with more interactive reverse vending experiences. The consumer identifies themselves with an app before their user session, to earn bonus points for their returned containers. Points can be redeemed for rewards or donated to a good cause. The program – which they call “TOMRA Makes Change” – has been developed to give consumers an engaging and inspiring recycling experience, and to offer value above and beyond the container refund. The program has close to 50,000 users in the US, with the number of members growing approximately 10% every month. 

“We want to make use of gamification to bring in as many containers as possible. Our goal is to collect plastic, aluminium and glass to ensure that it doesn’t end up in nature,” explains Henriksen.

Image of a reverse vending machine“Even though we have been extremely focused on the quality and uptime of the reverse vending systems we deliver, we have primarily measured our results based on the number of machines sold. Now, based on our experiences in the US, among other things, we are turning more toward delivering solutions that are so attractive that people want to use the machines more and more. The potential is huge!”  

More than reverse vending machines

Henriksen sees a perfect storm in recycling today, and describes how TOMRA management has strategically positioned the company in the center of several important trends. Where TOMRA once was an early pioneer in the green movement, today they have large parts of the world on their side. For example, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals strive for increased attention to and higher expectations for environmentally-friendly solutions. In addition to this demand in a growing number of countries, we as consumers are becoming more and more engaged in the environment.

Reverse vending systems are actually just one part of TOMRA in 2017. The company also brings its expertise in sensor-based technologies to other areas – like food sorting, municipal waste recycling, and mining.

“You may not know that we are also the biggest in the world for the sorting of potatoes and kiwi fruits, among other things – and that our systems help mining companies to recover gold and other precious metals, with far less environmental impact. At TOMRA we believe the best is yet to come, and we see a growing market for our innovative solutions all over the world,” concludes Henriksen, while throwing a glance at a screen that shows more and more consumers using their reverse vending machines.

“TOMRA collects more than 35 billion used beverage containers every year. This may sound like a big number, but it's only 2-3% of all beverages sold every year. Think about how much good we could do for the planet if we were able to collect 10 times as much as we do today – instead of these containers ending up in nature, seas and rivers. It would also significantly reduce the world’s reliance on raw materials in producing new containers. This gives a real sense of urgency to the work we do and the contribution TOMRA can make in the future.”