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Greanbean engineer turns recycling into a game

United States – Whoever says that the reverse vending concept is boring clearly hasn’€™t met Shanker Sahai yet; the founder of Cambridge start-up Greenbean Recycle. The high-tech machine of his design, which is an arcade game just as much as a recycling depot, attempts to provide the public with with a more meaningful and, above all, fun experience than its conventional counterparts.

The increasingly popular American eco-game completed its pilot scheme at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) just last year, enabling students to feed glass and plastic bottles or aluminium cans into the so-called ‘€˜Greenbean machine’€™. Equipped with a modified barcode reader, it gives participants instant feedback on the spot, such as ‘€˜one aluminium can – 500 watts saved’€™, upon which the system electronically transfers a 5 cent deposit to a linked PayPal or similar account.

Two nearby universities, Brandeis and Tufts, have now joined in as well. Latest figures show that more than 60 000 bottles and cans have been recycled, saving 10 500 kilowatt hours of energy.

Apart from being fully integrated into the Facebook online platform, ‘€˜players’€™ can keep track of their individual progress while also comparing stats with friends. When a certain score is reached, they may even win prizes. Mr Sahai is now considering setting up a Twitter account to the machines, so each community can receive a daily update on how many containers it has recycled.

It is all designed to get people more actively involved in the recycling process – something the Zambia-born civil engineer admits he was not close to himself for a long time. ‘€˜I remember having to stand in line at the grocery store to cash in the receipt for my five cents. I was like; you know what? I’€™m going home!’€™ he says. ‘€˜I felt so disconnected from the whole recycling process.’€™

Stumbling upon new-found fascination through his line of work, Mr Sahai claims he had been nursing a ‘€˜secret dream’€™ for 12 years – to make recycling easier and more satisfying. He finally decided to get to work with a different, more contemporary approach in mind. ‘€˜I chose this route because one of my chief goals is to engage young people in recycling. After all, this is the demographic that is going to change how we recycle,’€™ he notes.

To contribute to this cause, the civil engineer says he strives to install 20 more Greenbean machines at colleges and in other high-traffic areas throughout the nation.

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