It is easy to see the impact recycling can make on the environment and your bank account after unloading several large bags of bottles and cans at a center. Yet it is much more difficult to observe what tossing one or two items into a bin can do for the greater good. Civil engineer Shanker Sahai has developed a reverse vending machine that is able to demonstrate the power of conscious waste disposal while also allowing individual users to make a little money. Greenbean Recycle gives an instant deposit into the account of your choice as well as collects data so that you can compete with friends as to who will hold the title of top recycler.
Born in Zambia and raised in Botswana by a father who designed waste water treatment plants, Sahai came to environmental engineering early. After moving to the US, he became interested in reverse vending machines located outside of high-traffic commercial areas that offered cash-redeemable receipts for trash. Noting that these systems fell short by not taking into account users with only a couple items instead of a full load, he decided to create his own machines.
He tested out his contraptions at MIT, Brandeis, Harvard, and Tufts. Not only were users able to make a little money, but the data collection system let them see how their habits stacked up amongst their peers. As an added bonus, reverse vending machines produce the highest quality of materials, avoiding the problems that traditional bins face with broken items, contamination, the need to transport the items to sifting plants.
“When users see their names on a leader board they are more engaged to come and continue recycling,” Sahai told Co.Exist. “Recycling is a boring chore and sometimes you don’t know how your effort makes a difference or even if it is recycled and re-used [especially in cities with quotas], so by showing a user that even one bottle or can makes a difference in real time the user is encouraged to keep recycling.”
Real-time sustainability statistics can be viewed through the Greenbean Recycle website, where prospective clients can also set up a personal profile to get started. So far, the page claims that over 36,000 pounds of garbage have been diverted from the landfill, saving about 33,265 kWh of energy. Now that recycling has a visible platform to engage the public, it has the potential to radically adjust behavior one piece of rubbish at a time.
Images via Greenbean Recycle and Wikicommons user Streetwise Cycle.