Global Cases

Establishing municipal recycling systems for beverage containers


Handling of used plastic bottles becoming a major challenge

Used plastic bottles continue to pile up, day after day. Perhaps people feel it is a bother to dispose of them. Automated collection machines for used beverage bottles are one simple and straightforward solution to this problem. Unlike a simple collection box, the automated collection machine can separate, crush and compress used bottles on the spot, with high recovery efficiency posing a major advantage. Tomra Japan Ltd., a partly owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Corporation, is engaged in the recycling of used beverage bottles by using these automated collection machines.

Reducing the issue and costs of separating and collecting used beverage bottles

Tomra Japan is a joint company of Tomra Systems ASA (hereinafter, "Tomra") and Sumitomo Corporation. Tomra was founded in 1972 in Norway, an environmentally advanced country, and operates manufacturing and sales businesses for reverse vending machines (RVM), the collection machines for used beverage containers, in more than 50 countries, mainly in Europe, as well the United States. The RVM, developed by Tomra’s founder and sold by Tomra Japan, crushes collected used plastic bottles and compresses them to one-eighth of their original size thereby allowing them to be easily transported and recycled. With the introduction of this system, the issue associated with separating collected containers is solved because the reverse vending machines themselves can automatically separate plastic bottles, plastic containers and cans using an internal sensor.

Tomra has delivered more than 80,000 RVMs throughout the world. In Japan, Tomra Japan has delivered about 1,300 RMVs now in service in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Many of them are placed at supermarkets including Summit, and some of them collect more than 2,500 plastic bottles a day. Tomra’s RVMs are very popular, and sometimes you can find queues of people waiting to use them.

In Japan, used plastic bottles are collected by local governments (municipalities) on a regular basis. The costs are covered by taxes, and therefore, a new recycling system is required to reduce the high social cost. Some countries have introduced a deposit system in which a certain amount of money is refunded when used containers are returned. However, this system is operated only for 20% of all beverages. In light of these circumstances, Tomra Japan expects that a collection and recycling system for used beverage containers represents a major business opportunity.

Children can also enjoy participating in the eco-activity of recycling used bottles (at the Summit MINANO Bubaigawara store).

Issuing "points" that can be used for shopping depending on the number of used bottles collected

The beverage container recycling system using Tomra RVMs benefits everyone involved. Since April 2012, RVMs have been rolled out to about 210 branches of Seven & i Holdings group stores—Ito-Yokado, York Mart, and York-Benimaru stores—in Japan’s Kanto region. Ito-Yokado issues two “recycle points” (worth 0.2 yen) per plastic bottle, which shoppers can use toward their store purchases. In other words, customers are given discounts by bringing back their empty drink bottles, and stores can expect greater customer traffic and sales.

Tomra RVMs are thus helping the establishment of a sustainable “plastic bottle to plastic bottle” recycling system that works in coordination with large retailers, beverage and container manufacturers, and recycling and logistics partners.

Tomra RVMs support a recycling system that benefits both the customer and the supermarket

Encouraging children to learn about recycling

Currently in Japan, about 600,000 tons of polyethylene terephthalate resin is used to make plastic bottles a year. In general, the transportation and intermediate treatment of materials to be recycled are the most costly processes. Transporting plastic bottles is like carrying air and not economical. Tomra Japan’s recycling system sorts and compacts collected plastic bottles before transporting them, and therefore, can dramatically improve the recycling efficiency.

At the store, the task of putting a used plastic bottle into a reverse vending machine is very popular among children. Tomra Japan is also collaborating in family bus tours from a store to a recycling facility, organized by Fuchu City, Tokyo. It is also engaged in other activities that help raise society’s awareness of recycling.

Tomra Japan will further increase the number of RVM sites not only in the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Chubu area where an increasing number of RVMs have been installed, as well as in other areas, with a main focus at supermarkets and do-it-yourself stores.

A RVM demonstration at a store.

May 2020


  • Infrastructure Business
  • Japan
  • Environment

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