Coca-Cola Expands Reverse Vending Machines for Recycling


Recycle to Give Back: Coca-Cola Reverse Vending Machine at the 2018 USA Special Olympic Games in Seattle

Coca-Cola has a long history with vending machines dispensing acts of kindness, going back to its interactive Open Happiness vending machines that debuted in 2010. It’s also accepting acts of kindness from customers, with Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs) popping up around the world to encourage consumers to return bottles as part of its goal to recycle every bottle it produces.

This week Coca-Cola is incentivizing recycling at the 50th anniversary 2018 Special Olympics USA Games (taking place July 1-6 in Seattle) through RVMs that let fans give back in more ways than one.

Attendees can stop by two recycling stations at the games to deposit PET bottles or aluminum cans. Each recycled package triggers a $.05 donation to Special Olympics Washington through the Coca-Cola Give platform. Participants will be prompted to text “give” to 2653 to learn about additional opportunities to support their local communities.

The pilot with bottling partner Swire Coca-Cola USA supports Swire’s sustainability efforts and Coca-Cola’s “World Without Waste” vision to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells globally by 2030.

Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey in January discussed the company’s global plan to recycle the plastic equivalent of every bottle—to the tune of 120 billion bottles—they put out into the world.

Beyond the Special Olympic Games in Seattle, Coca-Cola North America is planning to place the experiential reverse vending machines in retail locations and at upcoming events such as music festivals, where fans could recycle to score perks like VIP upgrades.

The music festival circuit is a proven way to spread the message; in 2014 Coca-Cola European Partners showed how its Happiness Recycled tour engaged music-lovers at Europe’s summer festivals, part of a six-year activation that concluded in 2015.

Now Coca-Cola North America is picking up the (recycled) baton in Seattle and beyond. “We want to show the athletes and their families, friends and fans how rewarding recycling and sustainability efforts can be for the broader community,” said Nicole Smith, sustainability manager, customer collaborations, Coca-Cola North America.

“Being able to connect the Recycle and Give RVM was a huge win in connecting recycling with rewarding important causes like Special Olympics. This is our first (North America) pilot, but we are in discussions with some key customers on ways we can bring this to life in other spaces.”

The “Recycle Happiness” Movement

Beyond North America, Coca-Cola’s local operations have championed the #RecycleHappiness movement, often involving a machine-based activation to engage consumers.

For example, Coca-Cola Singapore decided to celebrate the week leading to Earth Hour in March 2012 with an innovative way to increase recycling rates in the country.

Consumers who recycled their plastic beverage bottles in the “Recycle Happiness Machine” (a nod to the Open Happiness vending machine campaign) were surprised with gifts such as fresh flowers, 1.5 liter bottles of Coca-Cola, or Coca-Cola collectibles such as t-shirts, bags and caps made from recycled plastic bottles.

Each gift contained a note to encourage the public to continue recycling. It also informed consumers about the 100 percent recyclability of all Coca-Cola packaging in Singapore as well as Coca-Cola RPET merchandise.

Partnering with the Singapore Environment Council, the Recycle Happiness Machine gave its bottles a second life by taking the beverage containers and recycling them into new items such as apparel. During the event, the roving machine moved between five popular Singapore spots, notifying fans with clues on where to find the machine via social media.

Singapore brought back the Recycle Happiness machines in late 2016, including an activation at the Singapore Zoo.

Recycling Happiness at Rugby World Cup

In 2015, Coca-Cola UK brought the #HappinessRecycled movement to Rugby World Cup fans.

In a major push to boost recycling levels, the campaign featured awareness initiatives at Coca-Cola fanzones across the country, including a ‘Happiness Pod’ at Rugby World Cup 2015 Fanzones and onsite in Twickenham stadium.

At four smile-activated vending machines, consumers were invited to stand in front of the Coca-Cola brand of choice which, with a smile, could be ‘unlocked’ to deliver a Coca-Cola sample.

Coca-Cola 2015 Rugby World Cup UK Happiness Recycled Machines

Visitors interacting with the ‘Happiness Pod’ were also encouraged to try the Batak challenge (above) by answering a recycling-related question before attempting to stuff as many bottles or cans as they could in 60 seconds into the pod for prizes.

India Tests RVMs as Urban Pollution-Fighter

Back in 2018, Coca-Cola branded Reverse Vending Machines are still popping up in different markets. Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB), the largest bottling partner of The Coca-Cola Company in India, is piloting RVMs in busy urban settings.

As shown in the video below, locals and tourists have been stepping up to “deposit” used bottles in the machines. If they choose to share their mobile numbers they will receive e-cash for a variety of products and services as a reward.

It’s a continuation of HCCB’s recycling and sustainability efforts such as its safaii mitras project in Goa to engage and educate the community in recycling. The disposable PET bottles will be shredded and converted into flakes to become the raw material for the manufacture of a number of everyday use products.

The goal: to achieve long-term environmental sustainability by educating and encouraging people to be environmentally responsible in the handling of post-consumption PET products by rewarding and incentivizing positive behavior—an important message in a market where urban litter is a concern.

Other Recycle Happiness machines in the region include a 2014 activation in Bangladesh, with a Happiness Arcade in Dhaka encouraging recycling through games, as shown in the video below:


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