Blog - Recycling Vending Machines

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A Note on Recycling Vending

… and doing our bit for the environment!

If you’ve travelled in mainland Europe you’re probably aware that many countries are much more advanced in respect of recycling than the UK. Not only are local authorities more geared up to providing effective recycling facilities for consumers, but attitudes of the general public are generally more ‘switched on’ to recycling than in this country and take more seriously their personal responsibility to the environment. The prevalence of litter in the UK on our streets and in other public places compared with many other countries illustrates the difference in this respect.

Vending machines are sometimes blamed for causing litter even though this is an unfair criticism given that they are mostly passive creatures (there hasn’t been a killer vending machine yet on Doctor Who!). However, it is fair to say that vending machines do provide products e.g. cans and bottles of soft drinks, whose containers contribute overall to the potential litter problem.
On the continent, it is normal for customers to be required to pay a charge (often as a result of ‘container-deposit legislation’ introduced by government authorities’) which is incorporated into the overall price for the drink. Incentive to dispose of the empty container is provided through a system of either full or partial reimbursement of the charge when it is returned to an authorised collection centre.

This used to be the system in the UK with glass ‘pop’ and beer bottles, but was discontinued way back when cheap, easily disposable, plastic and aluminium cans replaced their glass counterparts. As a child, I remember the excitement of collecting my reward from the local off licence after a bottle hunt with friends. It may only have been a few pence (‘d’ not ‘p’) but it was a brilliant route to a bag full of sweets!

Instead of dishing out cans and bottles, the machine takes them back through an opening in the front of the recycling vending machine. Empty cans and plastic bottles drop into a large container where they are held pending removal for recycling. Machines are able to differentiate between the types of empty container (the machine we sell uses a bar code reader for this) and ensure the used item drops into the correct storage section, therefore saving time for sorting at a later stage. The machine can also differentiate plastic cups if required, so long as the cups have a bar code stamped on the outside. This would not be a problem in a corporate environment where bulk buying of cups is likely. The machine can also be programmed, as required, to recognise any bar code likely to be encountered.

The real icing on the cake, however, is that the machine recognises the return and provides a receipt which may be used to reimburse the customer for the original deposit either in the form of cash or other type of reward e.g. shopping points, etc. Within an office environment, reimbursement can be used as part of a wider incentive scheme to promote staff involvement and engagement e.g. through offering prizes or other inducements, or to support a charity.

There are many different types of machines available on the market – from units that are suitable for small sites to others that can be built into walls and having a sophisticated disposal and sorting system out of sight.

The machine we sell, the Sielaff SiOne (PDF brochure) is ideal for the smaller location, and is designed to be banked alongside other vending machines. Having similar dimensions to traditional snacks and soft drinks vending machines, and with the same potential for exterior branding, the SiOne is ideal where appearance is as important as functionality. The machine also offers scope for creating the virtuous circle of recycling. Machines alongside may create the waste but the SiOne then provides the means to take it away, with an inbuilt incentive!

There is currently no requirement in the UK to charge consumers a deposit when they purchase drinks and similar containers, but strong arguments to do so have been put forward many times. This may happen at some stage in the future. In the absence of such legislation, however, it could be argued that the time is not right for the introduction of recycling vending. However, many retail environments already include many forms of incentivisation within their overall offer, e.g. to gain customer loyalty, and it is easy to see how the recycling vending approach could be built into such a scheme. Likewise, with companies who are keen to promote their ‘Green’ credentials.

Recycling vending machines, therefore, undoubtedly offers many benefits, whatever the motivation!

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