Reverse vending 101: A beginner’s guide

Wondering what a reverse vending machine is, how it works, or what happens to your bottles and cans after you return them for recycling? Check out this introduction to reverse vending.

A reverse vending machine is a machine where people can return empty beverage containers like bottles and cans for recycling. The machine often gives back a deposit or refund amount to the end user. This is what makes it a “reverse” vending machine: instead of the user putting in money and getting out a product (like at a candy vending machine), the user puts a product in and gets out a monetary value. 

Reverse vending systems are an automated way to collect, sort and handle the return of used drink containers. The first fully-automated reverse vending machine was created by TOMRA in 1972. Reverse vending machines are especially common in regions with container deposit laws (where you get money back for returning certain containers) or mandatory recycling legislation.

The name of reverse vending machines is sometimes shortened to RVMs. They are also known as redeem machines, recycling returns machines, or can and bottle recycling machines. 

Recycling your empties is as easy as 1-2-3.

Reverse vending

1: Insert your empty containers into the chute at the front of the reverse vending machine.

2: When you’re finished, tap the button at the front of the machine.

3: Take the receipt that the machine prints out. (In regions with container deposit laws, the receipt shows the value of your recycling refund, which can usually be redeemed at the cash register.)