Recycling machine in South Korea rewards people for sorting their trash

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

In South Korea, the city government of Changwon has launched a program together with social venture company Superbin, with a recycling machine that rewards people for sorting their trash.

As plastic waste continues to pose a greater threat to the environment, policymakers are rushing to develop varied ideas to solve the problem. Plastic is not biodegradable, but in time, they break down into microplastics. These microplastics remain on the planet forever and release harmful chemicals into the environment.

“I want to change people’s perception about trash and their recycling behaviours by sharing our belief: Trash is money. Therefore, recycling can be played,” Kim Jeong-bin, founder and CEO, Superbin said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

“To build a robust collection system, a sense of environmental responsibility is not enough. Financial incentives are needed to change people’s behaviours.”

Recycling machine in South Korea rewards people for sorting their trash
Superbin Recycling Machine / City government of Changwon

The recycling machine with a built-in artificial intelligence (AI) will not accept anything other than aluminium cans or plastic bottles, automatically going through a sorting process.

According to the city government, the beauty of the system is that it encourages people to dispose of recyclables properly because they can get rewarded in the process. For example, when one puts a plastic bottle into the machine, they get 10 points, and when their total points reach 2000, they can exchange them for cash as reimbursement. 

“As robots take in recyclable items, we don’t have to pay for overhead costs, rental fees and additional labour-intensive processes,” Kim added. “We take in cashable items and directly send them to recycling factories. This is a unique logistics system not found anywhere else.”

Another city in South Korea that has run this recycling program earlier is recognised as a success, with favourable reviews among its residents.

According to the city government of Gwangyang, the recycling machine was used by 6041 residents from May last year to September this year, with 1.11 million cans and plastic bottles, equivalent to 22.3 tons collected. The total amounts to US$4634.86 given as cash incentives to the participants.

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

A digital content manager based in the Philippines, Kaycee Enerva has written for multiple publications over several years. A graduate of Computer Science, she exchanged a career in IT to pursue her passion for writing. She's slowly practicing sustainability through period cups, and eating more plant-based food.



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