Ecoembes revolutionises incentive-based recycling with the development of the smart yellow bin

For the first time in the recycling sector, yellow street bins have become smart. Thanks to a ring equipped with cutting-edge technology, these bins can identify not only the packaging, but also the users, the frequency with which they recycle and the location. This 100%-Spanish evolution of the selective collection system in our country implements technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence, image recognition, tokenisation and blockchain.

These smart bins are integrated into the RECICLOS Deposit Return System (DRS) for beverage cans and plastic bottles. RECICLOS has been operating in Spain since 2019 and 3.6 million people now have access to the system. Sant Boi de Llobregat, a pioneering city in incentivised recycling, will be the first to have these smart rings in its yellow bins, and the technology will be extended nationwide in the medium term.

RECICLOS, the Deposit Return System (DRS) now up-and-running in 29 Spanish provinces, has taken another step forward in its commitment to an innovative recycling model with the development of a ring equipped with cutting-edge technology that converts the yellow bin into a smart bin.

This ring has been developed with 100% Spanish technology and is a pioneering device in the recycling sector. It is positioned at the feed-in opening of the yellow street bin and can identify each container deposited and each user, and associate this information with other data such as the location of the bin or the frequency with which the citizen recycles. It is based on the use of technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence, image recognition, tokenisation and blockchain.

These smart bins have been incorporated into the RECICLOS DRS, the incentive-based recycling system that has been in place in Spain since 2019. The system rewards citizens’ environmental commitment to recycling cans and plastic beverage bottles with points that can be exchanged for social or environmental incentives. The RECICLOS DRS is now up-and-running in 40 locations spread across all the Autonomous Communities and more than 3.6 million people in Spain currently have access to the system.

To use RECICLOS, citizens have to register on a webapp, scan the cans or bottles they want to recycle and deposit them in the yellow bins with QR codes in participating municipalities, in recycling machines (located in places such as rail and bus stations or shopping centres) or, from now on, in the smart bins equipped with this innovative technology.

The goal of all this is to continue to promote the recycling of these containers in a way that is simple for citizens, to enable greater monitoring and control of the waste throughout the process and to promote quality recycling that facilitates circularity. This project also lays the foundations for ongoing integration of technology into the recycling system in the future, through greater use of big data and other technologies.

Sant Boi de Llobregat, a pioneering city in incentivised recycling

The smart yellow bin was launched this morning in Sant Boi de Llobregat. This municipality was one of the first to opt for incentive-based recycling in 2019, through the implementation of RECICLOS. It will now become a testing ground and has already deployed the first 16 smart yellow bins fitted with these rings. To raise awareness regarding the use of these bins, the local council and Ecoembes have launched a public information campaign that will run for the first month of the initiative.

The launch ceremony was attended by Lluïsa Moret, Mayoress of Sant Boi de Llobregat; Óscar Martín, CEO at Ecoembes and Zacarías Torbado, coordinator of TheCircularLab, Ecoembes’ open innovation centre, where this initiative was born.

The Mayoress of Sant Boi de Llobregat, Lluïsa Moret, observed that, “through our participation in this project, Sant Boi is taking a further step on the road to the recycling of the future. This project encourages the co-responsibility of citizens, thanks to a technology that will facilitate compliance with European targets for the selective collection of packaging. Through this public-private partnership initiative, undertaken in collaboration with Ecoembes, we continue to be pioneers, whilst reinforcing our commitment as a city to innovation, sustainability and the fight against climate change”. 

Óscar Martín, CEO of Ecoembes, points out that “with the smart yellow bin, we are embarking on a technological revolution of the current reward-based recycling system, and taking a leap forward that allows us to address the new challenges and legislative targets set by Spain and Europe in order to create a much-needed circular economy. Turning the yellow bins on the street, which are within everyone’s reach and where citizens are accustomed to recycling, into smart bins that can be used to obtain rewards that encourage people to recycle more and better, is undoubtedly the way forward”.

The aim is to expand this technology nationwide. The fact that it does not change citizens’ recycling habits or the device they use for recycling (the yellow bin) facilitates widespread implementation of the technology in the medium term.

How the smart bins work

To use a smart bin, citizens must first register on the RECICLOS webapp. On arrival at the yellow bin, they identify themselves with their mobile phone using the QR code incorporated into the bin and insert their cans and/or plastic drinks bottles, one at a time and without a bag, through the ring, which automatically recognises the containers, opens and lights up in green to indicate that the containers are correct.

In the following 24 hours, the citizen obtains points, called RECICLOS, which can be exchanged for the different rewards available, such as raffles for sustainable products or donations to social or environmental projects in the municipality. In the specific case of Sant Boi de Llobregat, points obtained can be exchanged for participation in a raffle to win an electric scooter or to make donations to the Tots som Santboians Association, which focuses on helping people with disabilities, and which will be responsible for the undertaking of actions to preserve green spaces.

These smart bins will continue to have a traditional feed-in opening for the deposit of other types of appropriate packaging waste so that this waste can be recycled.