Woolworths pilots South Africa’s first in-store recycling vending machine

We are used to getting something out of a vending machine, but what about the chance to make a difference by depositing something we don’t want into one?

Recycling vending machine in Woolworths

Woolworths Palmyra customer Megon Bisset putting the recycling vendor machine through its paces.

In line with its recent announcement to achieve ZERO packaging waste to landfill by 2022, Woolworths has launched the customer trial of an integrated reverse vending machine in its flagship green store, Woolworths Palmyra in Claremont. This is good news for the many South African consumers who have called on retailers and manufacturers to reduce packaging waste.

“It might seem like a fun innovation because it’s so smart, but this is actually an important trial,” says Feroz Koor, the Woolworths Holdings Group Head of Sustainability. “Packaging plays a vital role in protecting products. The effort to reduce pollution is not just about finding the ways to minimise packaging in a responsible way; it is also about supporting consumers’ in their efforts to recycle, which in turn, boosts the country’s recycling industry. We are very proud to introduce our first in-store recycling vending machine. We know from customer surveys and social media conversations that there many customers concerned about reducing waste and we hope they will be keen to put the recycling vending machine through its paces so that it can be perfected and rolled out to more stores.”

The vending machine, which identifies recyclability by scanning product bar codes, was tested out first over a six-month period at Woolworths’ Head Office in Cape Town. Employees’ recycling efforts helped refine and expand the database and the user experience of the smart machine to amass a database of recyclable packaging barcodes that includes both Woolies products and other popular brands sold elsewhere. Takeaway paper coffee cups with bar codes, glass and tin containers, plastic bottles and containers up to the 2.25 litre size and Tetrapak are all accepted by the vending machine.

Woolworths recycling vending machine

Feroz Koor – Woolworths Holdings Group Head of Sustainability showing an interested Palmyra customer how the recycling vendor machine works.

“Our Palmyra store is where we have trialled the majority of our green initiatives so we are looking forward to enthusiastic customer engagement. It is also the only retail store in South Africa to receive a 5 star rating certified by the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA)* so it made sense to trial South Africa’s first in-store integrated reverse vending machine there, “ added Koor.

Recycling vending machines are increasingly common internationally where consumers participate actively in daily environmentally-friendly practices. To participate in the waste reduction process, consumers log in as a user of the recycling vending machine via their mobile phones and deposit their clean, barcoded recyclable items. As part of the scanning and sorting of recyclable items, the user immediately receives a SMS confirmation of their deposit and an encouraging congratulations on being an eco-warrior. A local recycler is alerted when the machine is reaching its capacity to collect the materials, and is an integral part of the process that ensures that recyclable packaging does not needlessly end up in landfills.

Woolworths eco warriors

Thank you eco warrior! – the final step after depositing recyclable packaging.

“Our ZERO waste to landfill journey is supported by many Woolies customers,” Koor concludes. “We know that they will appreciate this innovation, and that they recognise that we can’t walk this path alone. From producers to the household, and then beyond to include the South African recycling industry, we need to go forward towards ZERO waste to landfill, hand in hand.”

* using the Green Star SA – Existing Building Performance Custom Tenant rating tool

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