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TOMRA fights plastic pollution through reverse vending

With alarming growth worldwide in plastic pollution, TOMRA Collection’s reverse vending technology seeks to make the recycling experience for returning empty drink containers as convenient and user-friendly as possible.Published 15 Dec 2022 (updated 7 Feb 2024) · 3 min read

Quick information

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At a glance

  • Convenient, efficient reverse vending solutions
  • Prevents plastic pollution on land and in the ocean
  • Contributes to a circular economy

Every minute, one million plastic bottles are bought around the world. That equates to more than 500 billion sold each year. Thirty-two per cent of all discarded plastic packaging ends up in nature as litter, polluting communities and the world’s oceans. In fact, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is ends up in our oceans every minute. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight.

Reverse vending machines for efficient recycling

An increasingly popular solution to the global plastic crisis is deposit return systems. These schemes work by adding a small deposit on top of the price of a beverage, which is refunded to the consumer when they return the empty drink container for recycling. To make the en masse return of bottles and cans more efficient and convenient, many deposit return systems use automated “reverse vending machines”. Reverse vending machines instantly count the number of containers returned, sort away ineligible containers, and pay out the correct deposit refund to recyclers – much faster than is possible through manual, human handling.

Person picking up plastic litter on a beach

Concrete benefits

Deposit return systems provide a financial incentive for consumers to return drink containers, which might otherwise be littered or thrown in landfill. Reverse vending machines make recycling more convenient for both end users and the sites that receive the containers back (such as redemption depots or retailers, depending on local legislation).

By separating bottles and cans for recycling through reverse vending machines, drink containers are collected without contamination from other types of waste in a household recycling bin. This ensures containers can be recycled into new bottles and cans in a closed loop, which TOMRA calls Clean Loop Recycling, promoting a circular economy.

Market potential

Deposit return systems see up to almost 98 per cent of all drink containers returned for recycling. No other waste collection system comes even close to such high return rates. These systems are in place in 50 regions worldwide. Calls are increasing around the world for other countries to follow suit, with the UN Environment Programme in December 2017 encouraging all nations to implement deposit return systems.

The EU Single-Use Plastics Directive has set targets for member states to collect 90 per cent of single-use plastic drinks bottles by 2029, with experts stating that this would be difficult to impossible to achieve without deposit return systems in place.

Founded in 1972, TOMRA is the world’s largest provider of reverse vending machines, with approximately 82 000 installations in over 60 markets. TOMRA’s reverse vending solutions capture more than 45 billion used beverage containers every year to be continually reused and recycled back into new bottles and cans. The company marked its 50th anniversary last year.

Little girls taking bags of empty bottles out of the back of a car


Drengsrudhagen 2, 1385 ASKER, Norway


Zara Lauder

Communication Manager, TOMRA Collection

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