Reverse vending machine (RVM) that accepts empty glass bottles, plastic bottles or aluminum cans in exchange for a reward. After placing the recyclable item, it is analyzed, compacted and sorted according to its parameters / most often weight and material. The universal product code on the bottle or box is used to identify the packaging type. Once the item is scanned and approved, it is crushed and sorted into the appropriate classified material storage area. When the item is processed, the machine rewards people with incentives, such as cash or coupons. In the absence of an identification code, the machine may accept the waste, but in this case there may be no reward, or it may be in a smaller amount.
The first patent for such a machine was registered in the US on September 13, 1920 by Elmer Jones and Sue Walker. The machine works by returning coins as compensation for deposited bottles. At the time, this machine was called the Bottle Return Machine (BRM). Mass production was reached approximately thirty years later. The machine was manufactured by ‘Wicanders’ in Sweden and was used in the 1950s. In 1962, Aage Tveitan created an evolved “automatic bottle return machine”. After the invention, the machine was mass-produced by the innovator’s company Arthur Tveitan ASA in Norway and distributed worldwide.
In 1994, a three-in-one machine was created, focusing on the recycling of glass, plastic and metal bottles. This machine was made by Kansmacker and is still in use today in some states in the US. In the United Kingdom, the Reverse Vending Corporation (now RVM System) created the first deposit machine for repurchasing packaging.
Today, states are adopting more and more recycling policies, and packaging buy-back machines have become standard in areas with strict recycling policies. To date, there are more than one hundred thousand RVMs located in the countries of the EU, the United Kingdom, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the United States, Australia, Japan and China.
How do they work?
The empty packages are placed in an opening on the front panel of the machine. The receiving opening is designed so that the device accepts the packages one after the other. At the entrance, the packaging is weighed and scanned for the presence of a universal code /bar code/. If the weight deviates from pre-set parameters /for example, the presence of contents/, the package will not be accepted. In the absence of a barcode, the system can recognize the packaging by shape, weight and type of material. Once the package is accepted by the system, it is transported to the next crushing mechanism. This process provides a reduction in size and increase in storage volume of the machine
Waste is accumulating at an increasing rate worldwide, leading to the need for new recycling solutions such as packaging buyback machines. In 2020 alone, over four hundred billion bottles were dispersed globally among consumers, with just under half of those bottles collected back for recycling.
In North America, recycling adoption is relatively low; only 9.2% of the plastics produced in the United States were recycled. Recycling and collection programs are being implemented in states such as Michigan and California, where packaging buy-back machines are beginning to be implemented.
In Europe, Norway is among the leading recycling countries. In Norway alone, there are over three thousand seven hundred take-back machines and more than ten thousand stations where rubbish, including bottles, can be accepted. Norway offers relatively high cash incentives for returned bottles, resulting in high recycling rates. Finland, Denmark and Germany are also among the countries with high recycling rates /up to 92%/, due to the high fees for packaging and the deposit system operating in these countries.
In Asia, China and Russia are focusing on RVM through major food and beverage retailers, through discount coupons /in the Russian Federation up to 15%/. Russia’s neighbor Kazakhstan is also using the packaging buyback machines to help with its waste management processes. India first introduced RVM in 2016. The example of Israel is very telling and interesting. After implementing packaging buy-back machines in 2018, Israel today manages to collect 77% of recyclable waste by returning the deposit fee to the end user.
The RVM system has a number of environmental and economic advantages. Landfills are released from a large volume of waste that slowly decomposes in nature. Collecting recyclable packaging allows returning some of the materials back into production and reduces society’s dependence on fossil fuels. Last but not least, citizens are rewarded by not throwing away recyclable waste. The pilot project in Bulgaria, implemented in the Municipality of Gabrovo, showed the sustainability and effectiveness of this initiative.
RVM machines have high acquisition and operating costs. These costs cannot be covered by the direct proceeds from the sale of the collected materials.
Despite the convenience that reverse vending machines offer their users, the material rewards may be perceived as too small to encourage recycling by the general public.
Due to the significant effect on improving the urban environment, reducing waste and optimizing the use of resources and materials, the government and non-profit groups are initiating policies and programs to promote the use of packaging buy-back machines among the public.