Reverse vending machines promise to become a common sight in EU countries in the next couple of years as directives on single-use plastic bottles come into effect. Often seen outside grocery stores, these machines allow consumers to deposit their bottles and receive a store credit or cash.
“In Portugal, a lot of pilot projects are happening now, and we are technological partners in three of those principal projects,” Ricardo says. “Right now, there are 50 machines running software developed by us.”
A better way for bulk shopping
That software provides data about the bottles collected and the money or credit dispensed, from the store’s collection point to the recovery system to the municipal authorities.
The Loop is also developing its own system for bulk shopping that would include “smart” containers that use near-field communication tags. They allow tracking throughout the supply chain.
Consumers would buy their products —be it cereals, nuts, or even laundry soap — in these containers, paying a deposit, and then return them to the store when empty for a refund, saving massive amount of packaging from the original point of shipping to the point of sale.
The tracking system would include information on how many times the container had been used, when it was loaded, and from what specific batch of product, making recalls easier if necessary, for example.
“We know for retailers there’s a very big incentive to eliminate single-use packaging. And bulk can be a solution,” says Ricardo. “But it’s very complicated and we want to eliminate that.”
Book in Loop was a finalist in the 2018 Social Innovation Tournament, sponsored by the EIB Institute to promote solutions to social and environmental problems. The Loop and its other programmes have won numerous other awards.
Loop’s founders didn’t come from business backgrounds. Two of them studied law, one took advanced studies at Stanford in astrophysics, and Ricardo Morgado has a background in biomedical engineering. He left a career in the pharmaceutical industry to join the Loop when it was still just Book in Loop.
“I remember at the time telling my parents I was leaving pharma to sell used books and my parents were very confused by that decision,” he says. “But it was the best decision of my life. … I had a feeling at the time it wouldn’t not just be only the books.”