In Times Square on Earth Day a shiny new silver machine made its debut in a corner of a display booth among a row of green products exhibitors. It attracted knots of visitors like bees to a spring flower. The name might have been part of the draw: the Dream Machine. Who wouldn’t want to check that out?
That the Dream Machine was about something as lowly as recycling didn’t turn off its visitors. They crowded around the kiosk’s web-enabled video display, which prompted them to sign up for rewards — like discounts at local restaurants, free tickets to games or concerts, or merchandise from retailers hosting the machine — in exchange for feeding bottles into its maw. Using the touch screen to input my name, I gave it a try. The Dream Machine spat out a little key fob card; I waved it in front of the scanner and was immediately connected to the website of Greenopolis, the machine’s creator, where I could learn more about recycling, accrue points for the rewards (5 points per bottle), and keep track of my recycling behavior.
Consumers have been the weak link in the recycling ecosystem, with participation rates falling 30% in the last decade. The Dream Machine is designed to turn this around by giving consumers both material and social incentives to recycle (more on the social incentives later.) It’s the keystone of an innovative partnership between Greenopolis and PepsiCo’s beverage division that the companies hope will move the needle seriously to the right on recycling.
PepsiCo’s goal is to go from 34% to 50% of recycled PET (RPET) in their bottles over the next ten years, by capturing a steady stream of raw material straight from the consumer. That may not seem like much of a gain, but it represents millions of tons plastic that will be kept out of landfills. And it’s a win-win for the company: not only do they improve their environmental credibility (critics have slammed the company for its dependence on petroleum-based plastic for its bottles), but they also get access to more RPET at a lower cost.
Moreover, the kiosk accepts bottles from any company, not just Pepsi: it’s capable of gathering data on 170,000 different kinds of bottles — data that can be used by recycling facilities, the manufacturer, and Greenopolis to improve recycling efforts.
But the technology isn’t limited to bottles and cans; it can be adapted to almost any recyclable product, including batteries and electronics. Greenopolis and its parent company Waste Management Incorporated want to revolutionize the recycling landscape by bringing together the consumer, the retailer that hosts the machine (like Rite Aid, Whole Foods or a sports arena), the recycling facility and the manufacturer, like PepsiCo, for a seamless collaborative loop. And that’s what creates a new ecosystem for recycling.
Waste Management Incorporated is the largest recycler in the nation, processing about seven million tons. Back in the 1980s, the company came under considerable fire from environmentalists and regulators, who charged WMI was careless and even criminal in its disposal of toxic waste. But the company seems to have taken the criticism to heart in the decades since — and the Dream Machine feels like the real deal.
Jeremy Cage, chief marketing officer of PepsiCo’s international foods division, is leading the company’s Dream Machine initiative. He says the partnership up with WMI will allow it to attain a national footprint, putting the kiosks into communities all across the nation. “Sixty percent of households have access to curbside recycling,” he told me, “but only 12% of public spaces have recycling facilities, so when consumers are on the go, they end up tossing the bottles into the trash.”
PepsiCo plans to roll out three thousand Dream Machines in the next six months, partnering with retailers like Rite Aid and sports stadiums to host them. With the machine handing out rewards to customers that they can redeem instantly, host retailers expect increased traffic to their store. That gains their buy-in to the recycling ecosystem. (Hopefully, the merchandise won’t add to the waste stream!) And the project intends to put the kiosks in schools, as well.
The final link in the ecosystem is filled by the NGOs who are also part of the partnership. The anti-litter organisation Keep America Beautiful (KAB) has joined the Dream Machine effort. In connection with the project, PepsiCo is also donating to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, which helps unemployed vets start businesses: the more people use the machines, the more the company will give. That adds a social incentive to the material ones consumers are getting.
Leaving Times Square, I moseyed on down to Whole Foods at Union Square, where Greenopolis was holding an event in front of a Dream Machine set up right at the entrance. My eye was caught by a vertical display of lush plants growing in what looked like fabric pockets hung on a display wall across the street on the steps of Union Square’s park. The “Wooly Pockets”, suitable for growing plants inside and out, are the brainchild of founder and CEO Miguel Nelson and he was there to promote the company’s project to bring 11,000 Wooly Pocket gardens to New York City schools by next summer. “What are they made out of?” I asked him. “100% recycled PET,” came his answer. My head swiveled between the Dream Machine and the wall of living plants. It looked like an ecosystem to me.
See the original editorial on CSRWire.
Greenopolis.com is dedicated to our users. We focus our attention on changing the world through recycling, waste-to-energy and conservation. We reward our users for their sustainable behaviors on our website, through our Greenopolis Tracking Stations and with curbside recycling programs.