Revolutionising Recycling: The Fascinating History of Reverse Vending Machines

In a world full of increasingly environmentally conscious people, recycling has become a fundamental aspect of waste management. As a result, reverse vending machines, a key innovation in the industry, have played a fundamental part in the history of encouraging more recycling and reducing overall waste volumes.

In recent years, reverse vending machines (RVMs) have been deployed in many different settings, including supermarkets, shopping centres, and workplaces to promote recycling and raise awareness about environmental issues.

But, where and how did it start? In this blog post, we explore the fascinating history behind reverse vending technology, tracing its evolution from past to present to find out how the first machines came to exist.

Let’s dig in…

What is the history of reverse vending machines?

The idea for a reverse vending machine (RVMs) dates to the early 20th century when concerns over waste and resources began to emerge.

Below is a timeline of how this global recycling phenomenon came to be:

Reverse Vending timeline:

Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me you built a machine capable of gifting me for recycling?
Well, in the 1920s of America, Reverse Vending was born when the first patent was issued for an ‘Empty Container Return and Handling Machine’ to Elmer M Hones and Sue Walker Vance.

However, after the patent was accepted in 1925, there was no trace of any prototypes being built after the registration.


Although the first patent was registered in America, the first prototypes were actually manufactured in Sweden during the 1950s. The models were created in an attempt to tackle the growing litter problems caused by mass sales of beverage containers in Sweden from the rise of industry giants in retail. However, these early prototypes in Sweden only accepted a limited range of containers and were all operated manually. Although the manual models limited the volume of recycling, having the job title ‘reverse vender’, does sound interesting!


As technology evolved, so did the reverse vending machines. During the 1970s and 1980s, automation was introduced, which led to impressive new models being released. Now equipped with sensors capable of identifying and sorting the different types of containers, this well and truly removed the need for any ‘reverse venders’ to manually operate the machine.  The sensors helped improve the efficiency and user experience, which, in return, made recycling more convenient and accessible to the public.


During the 1990s and early 2000s, more of the world started to recognise the many benefits of reverse vending technology and looked to evolve it further. Machines were being introduced across the world capable of accepting more materials, including plastic bottles, aluminium cans, and glass containers. This has led to machines being able to help governments, businesses, and environmental organisations across the world with rollouts of sustainability initiatives to incentivise recycling.

Further updates included innovations such as compacting mechanisms to allow for greater capacity of materials and payment systems to help with efficiency and convenience for the public.

Today, reverse vending technology continues to evolve, but with the introduction of artificial intelligence, we could see some incredible machines entering the world. From machine learning to sensor technology, the new era of Reverse Vending Machines is here and capable of identifying and processing a range of materials with accuracy and efficiency. What’s more, some machines are now offering rewards or incentives to users who recycle, further incentivising usage.

The future is well and truly promising. With a world full of consumers who are more environmentally conscious than ever, and aware of the growing concerns of global warming, Reverse Vending Machines will play an even more prominent role in waste management incentives across the world, especially as more countries roll out a Deposit Return Scheme.

To summarise…

Since that very first patent in the 1920s, Reverse vending technology has come a long way. The machines have evolved from manual to automated, with some even introducing incredible pieces of AI. Now a critical part of modern-day waste management among consumers, RVMs have helped promote and incentivise recycling, which in return saves our resources and makes a positive difference. With continued innovation in this field and a world full of incredible minds, EcoVend is excited to see where the future of reverse vending technology takes us and just how much it will benefit future generations.