Reverse vending machines to reward recycling

December 11, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Plastic bottles account for an annual 23,000 tonnes of waste, much of it arising from drinks consumed away from home. With the Government keen to boost recycling rates in public places in an attempt to reduce the waste ending up in landfill sites, the so-called �reverse vending machines� are arriving at just the right time. Shoppers in Milton Keynes and Peterborough shopping centres now have the opportunity to do their bit for the environment and be rewarded for doing so.

The public can post their plastic bottles into the machine, which will determine whether it is made of PET (polyethylene terephthalata, a thermoplastic polymer resin which is part of the same family as the polyester used for man-made clothing). If so, it will be crushed by rollers and dropped into one of two internal compartments. Each of these compartments hold up to 400 bottles, depending on size and when they are full, staff at the shopping centres will be alerted so that the machines can be emptied.

If the bottle is non-PET and therefore not recyclable, it will be rejected and deposited into a side-compartment where it will be analysed to see what materials the public are trying to recycle. When a recyclable bottle is deposited, the shopper is rewarded by a voucher offering money off or offers for goods.

The vending machines are made by Recycling Options Ltd, based in Staffordshire, and the six month trial is funded by the pharmaceutical and healthcare firm, GlaxoSmithKline. The scheme is being managed by the charity Recoup. The project officer, Lucy Shields, says: "We believe that in areas with high public through flow, selling ‘food and drinks’, large quantities of plastic bottles, other packaging and food waste will exist. This trial will bring the opportunity for everyone to engage in recycling out of the home as well as in the home."

Shopping centres considering installing one will be pleased to know that they are also easy to install, requiring only a standard 13 amp socket and plug, and a telephone connection for recycling data to be transmitted. They require very little maintenance, are not noisy, only cost around 15p worth of energy to run each day and are not dangerous. The aperture has various sensors to detect any hands or arms and can immediately stop the rollers, which are in housed sufficiently deep in the machine to avoid any risk of accident or injury to users.

If the pilot scheme in Milton Keynes and Peterborough proves successful, perhaps the day will come when every venue with a vending machine will have a reverse vending machine situated close by, enabling us all to do our bit for the planet.

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