Solid Waste & Recycling

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Cover Story: Man vs. Machine

After reading Tomra's 70-page annual report, Recycling in Perspective, it dawns on you how far we've come in container collection. Tomra is the world's largest service and equipment provider for the c...


After reading Tomra’s 70-page annual report, Recycling in Perspective, it dawns on you how far we’ve come in container collection. Tomra is the world’s largest service and equipment provider for the collection and management of 25 billion beverage containers annually. With world consumption close to 800 billion containers per year, the opportunity for growth is immense.

The machine that currently challenges traditional in-store or depot manual labour is the reverse vending machine (or RVM). An RVM looks like a beverage container-dispensing machine, but it does the reverse. Customers place their containers into the RVM and receive their deposit back. Today, RVMs can collect most containers including refillable bottles (individ- ually or by case), gable tops and non-standard multi-shaped units. Through RVM technology, sorting and compaction results in high yield of high qual- ity material and reduced overall transportation costs.

RVM technology allows for efficient management of container redemption costs thereby improving both the retailers’ and depots’ ability to generate profit. Users of RVMs justify their investments through reduction of labor, reduction of space requirements by a ratio of 8 to 1, and the elimination of refunds on non-deposit containers.

Two of Quebec’s large grocery stores from the Metro and Provigo chains report that their RVMs enabled them to reduce space requirements, decrease contamination, improve customer service, provide accurate counting, and use much less labour.

In a fully manual depot or return-to-retail operation labour costs can account for 70 to 85 per cent of operating costs. Alberta’s “virtual depot” reports labour at 72 per cent of total operations. The Understanding Beverage Container Recycling report released earlier this year in the U.S. (see “First of Its Kind” in the February/March edition) reports that RVM systems are about 40 per cent less expensive that manual deposit systems, with equal recovery rates.

But what about the jobs?

Anne-Marie Chronas, president of Tomra Canada says, “It’s more about job improvement than job loss. RVM technology creates opportunities for new electro-technicians, repair and maintenance people, which enhances labour, instead of replacing it.”


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