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If you can find a way to make something most people don’t want to do, fun and pleasant, people will do it. Recycling has certainly caught on in San Diego, but Waste Management has teamed up with Greenopolis to offer a new and exciting way to expand their recycling options. Recycling “vending” style machines (although they’re collection machines, not vending machines) can be situated outside of stores and allow for easy recycling. But what’s the incentive to use these machines? It’s actually a rewards program.

The machines offer little barcode keychain tags that you can get from the machines to help you establish an account to track your recycling. When you step up to a machine, you touch the built in screen and it will ask you how you want to log in, you can scan the barcode on the keychain tag or enter your email address or not log in and get a receipt that you can enter a code from online later on. For simplicity, it’s easiest to use the keychain tag. Once you establish an account to tie your keychain tag to an email account (you can add more account details at home later) the machine asks you start scanning your recyclable materials. One machine handles aluminum containers and glass bottles, the other will accept plastics depending on whether they are PETE or HDPE plastics. Most of these containers the machines will accept will be from beverage containers that deposits were paid for. The machines give you a chance to not only recycle the containers and get the deposit money back, but also earn points that can be redeemed for discounts at local merchants.

Here in San Diego, the only locations that have the machines at the moment are Whole Foods Market stores. It makes it easy to drop your deposit paid recyclable containers then go into the store and redeem the vouchers printed from the machine for cash or for a discount on your purchase. Additionally the points you earn entitle you to print and redeem discounts at local businesses like restaurants. For example common ones allow you to redeem points in order to receive a 2 for 1 coupon or a dollar value discount on your visit to that merchant. You handle all the redeeming of points for discounts online at home, so you can find a merchant local to where you live or where you’re going to be and print out the discount before you go to that merchant.

The only real snags I’ve seen with the system so far is that on one visit, one of the machines was down, so I couldn’t recycle my aluminum or glass containers on that visit. Additionally you have to scan what you recycle so it knows what it’s receiving, say an empty beer bottle verses an aluminum soda can, this does help the machine because the screen will then show you a big arrow as to which of the two chutes to drop your container in before proceeding to your next container, however, I’ve run into the issue of the scanner not recognizing a couple of the products I brought to recycle. I’ve sent Greenopolis emails with the barcode numbers and a description of the product so they can add it to their database and while I received a personal thank you email for the submission, I’ve yet been able to recycle those particular containers on the machines yet.

In any case, the Greenopolis machines make it fun to recycle because of the opportunity to get some additional rewards in addition to being able to collect my container deposits, which I previously were not getting back just using the curbside recycling containers with my weekly trash pickup.

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