Getting people to recycle can be as painful as pulling teeth without Novocain. However, Stratford, Conn.-based rePlanet may have discovered a painless way to extract recyclables from the waste stream.
Launched in 1999, rePlanet recycling centers are designed to be placed in supermarket parking lots, to make recycling more accessible. The centers accept a variety of materials, with deposit-value containers, such as aluminum, glass or plastic beverage bottles, comprising the bulk of the recyclables. RePlanet operates primarily in California, which is one of 10 bottle-redemption states.
When a customer brings recyclables to a rePlanet center, a certified recycling specialist assists with the drop-offs, using two recycling machines to sort containers at a rate of 60 units per minute. A reverse-vending machine (RVM), which incorporates electro-optical recognition technology, takes pictures at the speed of 25 images per second to help identify and count the material. Then, the RVM provides a receipt that can be redeemed for cash from the supermarket or used toward grocery purchases.
The technology also works without an attendant on duty, providing customers 24-hour access to recycling.
“The machines also let customers choose how they want to recycle: full-service or with RVMs,” says Maureen Craine, rePlanet's marketing director.
Owned by Tomra Systems ASA, Asker, Norway, rePlanet initially began with 10 free-standing kiosks in California. Today, there are 210 centers, each recycling an average of more than 200,000 beverage containers each month, according to the company.
Even in the tough recycling industry, rePlanet has remained profitable with revenue sources coming from commodity sales and state subsidies. In fact, rePlanet centers are making more than enough to cover their approximate $25,000 annual operating costs and initial $40,000 to $50,000 startup expenses. The company has helped consumers recover more than $7 million in deposits since it began, Craine says.
To be economically viable, Tomra needs to process an average of 200,000 to 230,000 containers per month at each location.
Because achieving this volume of container recovery is even more difficult in states without deposit laws, the company has developed a new business model. As part of this model, the company is increasing consumer marketing and promotion to generate additional recycling volumes, in both bottle deposit and non-deposit states.
So far, rePlanet's success, at least in California, seems eminent. California supermarkets are required by law to provide recycling services. And rePlanet fills this need while alleviating some of the store's recycling burden.
Since installing the centers, recycling rates have increased approximately 60 percent in locations where rePlanet replaced existing recycling drop-off areas.
Currently, the company is launching test centers in Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Fla., and Orlando, Fla. Eventually, Tomra hopes to expand worldwide.
“With a clean, attractive facility and trained specialists available to answer recycling questions, we hope to create a favorable recycling experience that will keep people coming,” says Greg Garvey, Tomra's head of Global Business Development.