Field: Municipal solid waste treatment
Global Technical function: Collecting, Promoting sustainable practices, Providing incentives, Recovering, Separating
Technical Function Unit: Raising consumer awareness, Segregating
Geographic Area: Hungary
Type of actors: Citizens, SMEs

Returpack ‘Reverse Vending Machine’ incentivises aluminium and plastic recycling

To simplify and incentivise aluminium and plastics recycling in Hungary, recycling company Returpack devised a ‘Reverse Vending Machine’. The standalone machine, which is placed in public places, offers incentive vouchers to citizens in return for their cans and bottles. 

The challenge:

Aluminium cans and PET plastic bottles contain valuable materials that can be easily recycled. In Hungary, these materials are the most common beverage packaging, but collecting and segregating these cans and bottles in order to recycle them are a challenge. As well as there being a shortage of places to deposit packaging, citizens lack incentives to sort and return them.

The measure:

Returpack, a packaging recycling SME based in Budapest, together with manufacturer Sealorient Kft., developed an automated collection system - the Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) -, to collect cans and bottles, in 2009.

The RVM is designed to be placed in public spaces such as shopping centres, allowing citizens to bring and dispose of their aluminium cans and PET plastic bottles at a time which is convenient for them. After placing their cans and bottles into the automated machine the user receives an incentive coupon in return.

The RVM is fitted with an aluminium recognition device, allowing it to immediately reject non-recyclable materials. The standalone unit is capable of handling automatically crushed, flattened on undamaged cans, and depending on the model has a total capacity of between 5000 and 9000 cans.

Within five years of being introduced to the market, around 200 Returpack RVMs were in operation around Hungary. As a result, RVMS are recovering and separating seven tonnes of aluminium cans and twenty tons of plastic bottles each year.

Lessons learnt:

The RVM has been successful in part due to its attractive business model. The machine has the potential to be an extra revenue stream for retailers, while it also bolsters company image and creates a positive PR message.

By providing incentives to recycle, the Reverse Vending Machine concept has also proved to be effective at raising consumer awareness and promoting sustainable practices among citizens.

Further deployment:

The RVM machines have now been operating continuously for a number of years in Hungary, showing that the system and its business model are sustainable. Though the use of such a machine will need to fit into the respective legal framework for municipal solid waste treatment, the RVM is ready for wider deployment. TRL 9.