Tomra R1 behind the scenes: Developing a revolutionary recycling experience

Tomra R1 behind the scenes:…

On 5 November 2019, Tomra Collection Solutions unleashed a recycling innovation that was years in the making: the Tomra R1 reverse vending machine (RVM). The “multi-feed” RVM enables recyclers to pour over 100 empty beverage containers into the machine in one go – rather than inserting them one by one. This means that recyclers can empty an entire bag of drink containers into the RVM in seconds, making it more convenient and motivating to do their part for the planet.

Tailored to larger stores and redemption facilities collecting high volumes of containers, Tomra R1 seeks to offer a more efficient and convenient recycling experience. This can attract footfall and repeat visitors to recycling locations, and increase the volume of containers returned. ​When returning over 100 beverage containers, recycling at Tomra R1 is up to five times faster than using a single-feed solution.

Today, over 50 Tomra R1 reverse vending machines are installed in five countries. To date the machines have had more than 600,000 recycling sessions, capturing over 50 million bottles and cans - with a huge 787 being the highest recorded number of containers returned in one session. 

As Tomra R1 celebrates the one-year anniversary of its launch, we spoke to the two Tomra Collection Solutions product managers who brought Tomra R1 from the mind to the market.

Developing a revolutionary recycling experience

“We began testing early versions of Tomra R1 in the field with retailers and recyclers in Norway and Sweden from 2016, but the idea of a multi-feed machine had been part of Tomra’s strategy for some time before that,” explains Katrin Bjoland, former Tomra R1 Product Manager, and now Business Development Manager at Tomra Collection Solutions. In 2011 the team conducted an internal pre-study of what kind of solution this could be, and this work led to the launch of Tomra’s “Expert” line, a bulk solution for bottle depots and industrial facilities. “This was an important step in the development process toward the Tomra R1 we have today, because we built a lot on the experience and knowledge that we gained from bringing the Expert line to market.”

First prototype at supermarket Meny Borreveien in Norway

The development process saw learning points, challenges and wins, and was undertaken with the great dedication and hard work of the team. The development was made possible by a large, interdisciplinary team – spanning industrial design, mechanics, software, electronics, and marketing. After several early versions of the multi-feed machine were tested in house, the first iterations for a real-world retail setting were installed at the end of 2016 in Sweden and Norway. The goal was to get proof of concept for the technology, see the response from consumers, and get feedback from retailers on whether this could be an interesting offering in their stores. The response was positive on all fronts, with the machine proving a huge hit with consumers. Development moved to revising the design, and planning for maintenance and service.

First prototype at supermarket Meny Borreveien in Norway
First prototype at supermarket Meny Borreveien in Norway

New prototypes moved into the stores, and the number of test locations expanded – including to the US. “The stores that have been with us through those transitions have really seen the improved design, so they were really happy with how it turned out. We valued their feedback and took that into consideration for the design,” explained Katrin. The third pilot saw the addition of an operator screen located inside the backroom, so store personnel have all the information they need at their fingertips – becoming Tomra’s first RVM with this feature.

“The machine is totally fantastic! Customers love it, and we definitely have customers coming to the store because of it,” explained Fredrik Hallenstvedt, Store Manager at Meny Borreveien in Norway, one of the testing locations for Tomra R1. “Since installing the machine we have experienced over 200% growth in the volume of containers compared to the year before.”

As well as taking on board retailer feedback, Katrin was pleased to see the positive response from end users. “At one store, recyclers were lining up almost out the door to use the machine, even though another single-feed RVM beside it was open and available. The store manager tried to guide people to use it, but they just said, ‘No thank you, we came to use this one.’” The test phase saw recyclers arrive with trailers full of containers, drive 20 kilometers past other stores in order to use Tomra R1, and a demonstration video uploaded to social media by one of the stores reached 425,000 views. “The positive response from recyclers and retailers alike were the result of the persistence and amazing team efforts of our colleagues across the organization.”