Reverse Angle

Features - International Recycling News

A reverse vending systems CEO offers thoughts on how such units can increase beverage container recycling rates.

March 23, 2011
Brian Taylor

Producers of aluminum and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are unified in their statements that they welcome the re-introduction of empty cans and bottles into the production stream.

Beyond statements, producers of aluminum can sheet and PET bottles also continue to make considerable investments to ensure that cans and bottles collected will have abundant end market destinations.

The willingness of basic materials producers to close the recycling loop seems fairly uniform throughout the world. Among the variables both globally and within the United States is support for the collection infrastructure to redirect such cans and bottles from trash cans to recycling bins.

Several collection methods compete to lure cans and bottles into the recycling chain, including reverse vending machines (RVMs).

In the United States, the devices are most commonly associated with states that have deposit-and-return laws and are commonly found at retail locations where beverages are sold.

In a recent conversation with Recycling Today, Gool Santchurn, CEO of Netherlands-based RVM maker Envipco (Environmental Products Co.) Holding NV, offered an update on his company’s efforts to serve markets throughout the world. Some of these efforts, says Santchurn, have involved modifying and redesigning machines to fit circumstances unique to a given locality.


Recycling Today (RT): How has the reverse vending concept or technology been modified so it can be adopted in different countries?

Gool Santchurn (GS): Different countries have different recycling needs or standards. There are machines that are suitable for many of the 11 bottle-bill states in the United States, for instance, but not necessarily all of them. In Europe, we may need slightly different machines depending on which nation we’re talking about.

An example would be if you look at our Greek model. It’s based on advertising. There are interactive features on the machine and it has to have material detection technology. In deposit-and-return markets, bar code technology is the key. In non-deposit markets, it’s identifying PET or aluminum or glass.


RT:  What are some of the considerations that can make operating in Greece or Australia different from operating in the United States?

GS: Currently, we have curbside collection systems and we have deposit systems, which can be an expensive but effective solution. What we’ve done is introduce new technology to arrive at the lowest cost per unit of collection. It is totally automated, has to be efficient and it has to be rewarding to the participant. The rewards can be coupons, donations to schools or other prizes.


RT: Is there a reverse vending model to collect glass containers for re-use?

GS: Absolutely. Currently, in some cases, we have an RVM system that takes glass and collects it in a “soft drop” manner. The RVM counts it and puts it in a secure container.


RT:  To what extent have retailers accepted the presence of reverse vending machines as a beneficial thing to have on their property?

GS: Basically, we ask the retailers to see it differently. Traditionally, many of the retailers are looking at RVM as a necessary evil and as a compliance requirement. We’re trying to change that perception so they see the RVMs as beneficial in that it enables recycling. This can pay benefits in both corporate responsibility aspects, plus we can make it rewarding by bringing traffic to the store. Typically, people will not go to a store just to recycle. Instead, at the same time, they will pick up some groceries and possibly use the coupons they just received at the RVM.


RT: Where does Envipco see opportunities emerging for a profitable reverse vending infrastructure to be installed within the United States?

GS:  I look at it as having two important segments. One is the deposit market in the bottle bill states. There, the market is somewhat saturated—it is more of a replacement market. But we have developed some low-cost RVMs that may be affordable for smaller stores, gas stations [and] what have you. That’s a market that could be better served in those states.
In the non-deposit states, we see growth in the RVM concept. It’s an economically viable model, especially now that we have developed new
technologies.

A lot of beverage companies have vending machines of their products outside of stores. We’ve developed technology that is smaller in scale. These are RVMs that blend into a bank of vending machines. The employee who stocks those vending machines can also collect from these RVMs. So it’s less of a dedicated system and less of a cost. Because of the way we compact the collected containers, they’ll have room enough in the delivery truck.

There is a branding aspect to this. I think there are a lot of companies that can attach their brand to recycling and show they are responsible and are willing to pay the cost of the machines.
So we see growth in the non-deposit market. The previous technology was too expensive to make it viable. In the non-deposit states, we are embarking on a program to collect. Generally, it’s very hard for any bottler to say they are environmentally conscious by turning away from this idea.


RT: Are you seeing a good response to initial efforts?

GS: We are very encouraged by our initiatives in the non-deposit market and that we’ll see it growing in the months to come.


RT: What are some advantages to the use of RVMs in non-deposit states?

GS: RVM material quality is totally different—it is much better. The yield factor is huge. Material collected through an RVM system is pure material—that’s a very persuasive argument. At our plastic recycling facility in Europe, where we process 110 million metric tons of plastic, by experience we know the significant difference in yield factors between the RVM and the non-RVM streams.


Gool Santchurn is CEO of Envipco, based in the Netherlands. The company’s U.S. operations are based in Naugatuck, Conn. More information is available at www.envipco.com