Beyond the Blue Bin: The Next Generation of Recycling

If you live in a state with a bottle deposit law, you may have encountered Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs) at supermarkets or recycling centers. For consumers, RVMs provide a simple, clean and convenient way to recycle used beverage containers. For retailers and recycling centers, RVMs provide a streamlined platform to automate the collection, sorting and compacting of recyclables.

As public sentiment continues to shift in favor of businesses with strong sustainability initiatives, consumers are beginning to look for better recycling options beyond the traditional supermarket and recycling center venues. Facilities managers in universities, entertainment arenas, public parks, and hospitals are beginning to seek out new options for automated recycling programs.

Blue recycling bins are a fixture in many institutions and public spaces. However, these blue bins lack the interactive element and ability to provide incentives that RVMs have; members of the public often automatically pass them by or throw non-recyclable trash in them. Many organizations are realizing that to take their recycling programs to a new level, automated recycling machines can be an effective way to not only incentivize people to recycle, but also show that the organization or facility is serious about reducing litter and stress on landfills.

The introduction of RVMs in institutions and public spaces is showing that automation can improve the rate of recycling in busy facilities. With the right kind of arrangements in place, RVMs can even forge a valuable link between business and the public, providing innovative ways for the machines to help pay for themselves.

Cleaning Up on Campus

Last year, Sacred Heart University in Connecticut was looking for ways to eliminate litter, reduce its trash volume, and cut the university's waste hauling expenses. To address these challenges, the university installed RVMs to capture the thousands of used bottles thrown away on campus each month from the regular trash.

To help finance these RVMs, the university tied its recycling initiative with sponsorships provided by consumer product companies. Students and faculty who returned their empty plastic and aluminum beverage containers to the RVMs on campus received coupons to redeem goods from key sponsors, including BIC (stationery products and shavers), FUJIFILM (digital cameras), as well as items from the university's food service provider.

"Our previous recycling program -- utilizing simple blue recycle bins around campus -- though effective in encouraging students, faculty and visitors to recycle, was not enough to get the job done, so we were looking for a more interactive solution," says Floyd Young, Director of Facilities/Campus Operations at Sacred Heart University. The RVMs can accept up to 20 containers per minute and have a total capacity of 500 containers per machine, depending on the material.

At Fairfield University, also in Connecticut, a similar program offers students the opportunity to recycle bottles using an RVM, and then get an automatic receipt for their deposit credit on their university "Stag" card, which can be used to pay for food, books, laundry and other campus expenses.

Sustainable Entertainment Venues

The Dunkin' Donuts Center, a SMG managed facility in Providence, R.I. that hosts sporting events, major concerts and other large entertainment attractions, is using RVMs as the centerpiece of a program to improve recycling in the facility. The RVMs are installed in the facility's food courts, providing the public with a clean, easy way to dispose of their glass, plastic and aluminum beverage containers responsibly.