Put some cash in and get something to drink in return. That’s how vending machines usually work—unless you’re hanging out in Sydney. The Australian city has debuted the Envirobank reverse vending machine, an innovative effort that officials hope will make it easy and fun for people to recycle.
The machines are in Sydney’s Circular Quay and Chinatown neighborhoods, which are both highly trafficked by locals and tourists. If someone is out walking and drinking something in a can or a plastic bottle, she can dispose of her empty container in the machine. In exchange, the city gives the consumer a recycling reward—from bus passes and food truck vouchers to tickets to the city’s world-famous New Year’s Eve party.
Like most cities, Sydney has had traditional recycling bins in public places for years. But those haven’t been particularly successful, because people throw all kinds of other trash in them. As a result, only about 42 percent of bottles and cans are able to be recycled. Contamination problems are avoided with the reverse vending machines because they only accept bottles or cans; you can’t stick a takeout food box in them. And because the Envirobank crushes materials when they’re inserted, it can hold up to 3,000 containers—plenty more than the average recycling bin.
A machine that incentivizes recycling was needed in Sydney. According to the city’s website, a whopping “15,000 bottles and cans are littered or landfilled in Australia every minute.” Even though cigarette butts get a bad rap for polluting sidewalks and streets, “beverage containers now outstrip cigarette butts as the most littered item” down under.
If the Envirobank machines prove successful, Sydney plans to install them across the city—and potentially across the nation. It seems like a concept that the rest of the world would be smart to borrow.