Reverse Vending Machines Make Recycling Easier

Very often people want to recycle but aren’t sure how. This area of untapped recycling potential is a business opportunity that many companies are jumping in to fill. For example, what are you supposed to do with fluorescent light bulbs? CFLs are widely encouraged as a replacement for incandescent light-bulbs but, they do contain small amounts of mercury and we all know about the dangers of mercury poisoning.

Things like batteries and CFLs should not be thrown away with household hazardous waste (HHW) but many consumers don’t know what they should be doing instead. This is what UK company reVend hopes to change – they are the first company in the world that specializes in supplying “reverse vending machine systems, installation, material recovery and recycling through their experienced management team in RV technology, recycling and waste management.” 

What all this means is very simple: when you put your CFL into a big slot in the vending machine, a video camera fitted inside identifies the bulb so it can be sorted, and then you receive a voucher for a free cup of coffee. Swapping an old CFL for a cup of coffee sounds like a good deal to me. In addition to recycling, reVend also provides regular maintenance services for their machines. The machine also comes with an extractor filter to capture any mercury vapour in case of accidental breakage of a light bulb.

reVend claims that there are are over 100,000 Reverse Vending Recycling machines installed throughout the world. The company also says that in addition to the mercury, virtually all the components in a CFL can be reused. The metal bits are sold for scrap, the glass is recycled and the phosphor powder is recycled as well.

Companies like Home Depot have CFL recycling programs where customers can put used CFLs into drop-off boxes. With the gradual and planned phasing out of incandescent light-bulbs, the use of CFLs will only increase thereby exacerbating the problem of mercury pollution. A single CFL has only a small quantity of mercury but in bulk, they pose a problem.

Recycling companies like reVend play an important role in changing public perception towards recycling.  Everybody knows what to do with paper and plastic, but when it comes to hard-to-recycle items like CFLs, most people need is a little direction and companies like these can bridge the gap towards safer recycling.

Image Credit: reVend

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also

2 responses

  1. It is important for consumers to realize that CFLs and
    fluorescent bulbs require special handling and disposal, due to their mercury
    content. Like all mercury-containing fluorescent lights, CFLs should be
    properly stored, transported and recycled to prevent these fragile bulbs from
    breaking and emitting hazardous mercury vapor. They cannot be thrown away in
    the trash, but should be taken to a recycling center or disposed of by using a
    proven recycling box. However, taking them to a recycling center may not always
    be the most efficient solution. Consumers can use a recycling box to ship bulbs
    instead. If consumers choose this option, it is important to select a packaging
    configuration that effectively contains mercury vapor. A recent study conducted
    by the University of Minnesota tested the effectiveness of various packages in
    containing mercury vapor emitted from broken fluorescent lamps. The study found
    that many packages do not sufficiently contain mercury vapor, such as
    single-layer cardboard boxes (representing the original manufacturer’s box or
    container) as well as single layer boxes with a sealed plastic bag. Just one
    configuration—consisting of a zip-closure plastic-foil laminate bag layered
    between two cardboard boxes—minimized exposure levels below acceptable
    occupational limits, as defined by state and federal regulations and
    guidelines. Find out more about this proven packaging method at:
    If a bulb breaks, consumers can learn more about clean-up procedures here:


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