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.

A business contract for collecting used plastic bottles was concluded with Adachi Ward in 2006

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 67,000 RVMs throughout the world. In Japan, Tomra Japan has delivered a total of about 600 RMVs and these are now in service in the Tokyo metropolitan area (about 450 units) and the Chubu area (about 150 units). Many of them are placed at supermarkets including Summit, and some of them collect more than 5,000 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 15% 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

Tomra Japan’s recycling system for used beverage bottles using RVMs allows all people who participate in the system to enjoy benefits equally. Adachi Ward in Tokyo, which commissions Tomra Japan to provide the recycling service for used plastic bottles, is a good example. At present, Tomra’s reverse vending machines are placed at 46 supermarkets throughout Adachi Ward and issue the ward’s "eco-points," worth 0.5 yen per plastic bottle. If users accumulate these points, they can receive a discount depending on the number of accumulated points when shopping at the supermarkets. This recycling system allows consumers to receive a discount through the disposal of used plastic bottles, aids promotion for the supermarkets involved, and enables the municipality to reduce the costs of collecting used plastic bottles.

In addition, since April 2012, Ito-Yokado, York Mart and York-Benimaru, which are Seven and i Group companies, have been installing RVMs at around 210 stores in the Kanto area. They aim to establish a “plastic bottle to plastic bottle” recycling system in coordination with major retailers, beverage/bottle manufacturers and recycling/logistics partners.

At Ito-Yokado stores, two recycle points (equivalent to 0.2 yen) are awarded for each recycled plastic bottle

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.

April 2011


  • Infrastructure Business
  • Japan
  • Environment

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