A man demonstrates an early-model Tomra reverse vending machine in Canada.
Photo: Ken Faught/Toronto Star (Getty Images)
Today I LearnedToday I Learned is a feature where The Takeout writers share something they learned today.  

When I saw the phrase “reverse vending machine” in a headline, my cognitive wheels began to turn—but in a kind of weird figure-eight. Does a reverse vending machine suck in people, to be purchased by sentient bags of pretzels? Or does a reverse vending machine take in my food, and then spit me money? Turns out, it’s closer to the latter. Obviously.

According to FoodBev Media, reverse vending machines are automated stations that suck in your empty containers—plastic bottles, etc.—and in return, give the user money or rebate vouchers for the grocery store that houses them. Such machines are currently in a trial phase in the U.K., and they’re right now only equipped to accept beverage bottles from a grocery chain there called Iceland. For each bottle deposited, shoppers receive the equivalent of a voucher worth roughly 13 cents. But FoodBev Media notes the pilot phase is important, as the U.K. is weighing the feasibility of a national bottle-deposit program.

The idea isn’t brand-new. As pictured in this story’s main image, a company called Tomra has made reverse vending machines for decades; it’s still in existence and is now a multinational company producing sensor-based machines for recycling sorting.

“At least one-third of plastics, much of this relating to packaging, is single use and then discarded; plastic bottles are a prime example of this,” Iceland foods group managing director Richard Walker tells FoodBev Media. “Through our trials, we hope to understand how to make it easier for people to act in an environmentally conscious way.”

But is a 13-cent voucher really what’s standing in the way of people recycling? I tend to see people fail to recycle when there’s a lack of receptacles for their bottles, not because they love spitefully throwing trash away. If a small rebate motivates some people to keep packages out of landfills, though, then cheers to that.

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