Machine enables students to benefit charity while recycling

Visitors to the Mayer Campus Center over the last few weeks have likely noticed a new addition, in the form of a recycling machine that offers students the opportunity to earn a little small change or do some good while recycling.

The machine is the brainchild of software technology company Greenbean Recycle and will soon begin accepting used bottles and cans in exchange for five cents’ worth of JumboCash or a charity donation for every unit recycled.

“The hope is that this machine will be appealing to people who may not recycle otherwise,” Dawn Quirk, recycling coordinator for Tufts Recycles!, said.

Shanker Sahai, the founder and chief executive officer of Greenbean, said that the reverse−vending machines he had seen at a number of supermarkets inspired the idea for the machine. Although this system was an effective means of reclaiming bottles and cans from customers, he felt that technology could make it more efficient.

“The process of printing out paper receipts and waiting in line at a cash register for the money didn’t make sense in a 21st−century world,” Sahai told the Daily.

He explained that he set about remodeling the machine so that the compensation could be transferred electronically straight to a student’s PayPal or school account.

“We live in a society in which instant data is instant gratification,” Sahai said. “We wanted to demonstrate how, within seconds of recycling a bottle, your actions can make a difference in the world.”

Greenbean has identified several charities to which it will send the donations through the program. These include the Nature Conservancy, Groundwork Somerville and the Fisher House Foundation, Sahai said.

Still, he strongly encourages Tufts students to be vocal about the organizations they wish to support.

“We really want students to come to us and tell us which groups they want us to donate to,” he said. “A consensus decision would help us out a lot.”

Kristina Momchilova, the marketing manager for Greenbean Recycele, stressed that a key goal was to increase recycling rates through a more efficient system.

“Every year in the United States, eight million tons of recyclable bottles and cans get put into landfills,” Momchilova told the Daily. “This is the problem we’re trying to improve. We want to make sure that everything that people consume is properly recycled.”

Momchilova further explained that the machine would also sort glass, plastic and aluminum containers, thereby reducing the contamination rates that typically result from mixed recycling using traditional blue bins.

Quirk, who is also the waste reduction program manager for the Department of Facilities Services, said that Greenbean first approached Tufts about installing a machine two years ago.

Yet Momchilova explained that the process has been long and complicated as the company had to find sponsoring companies, ensure that its machines would be fully functional and arrange for the recycled products to be collected regularly from every station.

She said that the company finally experienced a breakthrough when its proposal was last year accepted by both Tufts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

MIT became the first university to have a Greenbean recycling machine installed when “Zoe,” as the machine was nicknamed, appeared in its Stratton Student Center last August.

Greenbean’s new recycling system has been received quite favorably among the MIT student body, according to Momchilova.

“One fraternity at MIT has recycled 6,500 cans through this machine,” she said. “They generated $150 to $200 to send to charity. I was very impressed!”

Sahai was encouraged by the positive response to the Greenbean machine at MIT.

“Students worked together at getting as many bottles and cans out to the machine as possible,” he said.

Having installed machines at Tufts and MIT, Momchilova expects Greenbean to expand to Brandeis University by the end of the year and to many more campuses in the future, fostering some healthy rivalries between them.

“Our goal is to have one of these machines in every college campus,” she said. “We want there to be a friendly competition between schools — maybe there can be an intercollegiate challenge to see which schools can recycle the most,” she said.

Both Momchilova and Sahai believe that the success of this initiative ultimately rests in the hands of students.

“It all depends on you guys,” Momchilova said. “If five cents doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t you think it could still mean the world to a charity? College students should be encouraged to recycle more. We’re trying to show you the true impact that your actions have.”

“I want students to see what they can do with this,” Sahai said. “You’re the next generation — we want to educate folks that they can make a difference in the world by recycling.”