Curious about the crunching sounds coming from the basement of the Science Center? It’s the Greenbean Recycling Machine—Harvard’s latest recycling solution—hard at work. A redemption center for recycled goods, the Greenbean Machine is also a sorting whiz, gaming fanatic, and energy savings calculator.

Created by Shanker Sahai and piloted on MIT’s campus in 2011, Greenbean strives to increase recycling by incorporating real time analytics, social media, and gaming into its “reverse vending machine” system.  Building Manager, Andy LaPLume, generously offered to host the machine in Harvard’s Science Center last summer. After working out a few kinks, the Greenbean machine officially launched in early February.

Harvard University’s Associate Manager for Recycling and Waste Management Rob Gogan says, “In our waste audits from student houses and dorms, we often find bags from student parties: lots and lots of soda and beer cans and bottles. It frustrated us that despite our best efforts, students cleaning up after an event would not separate their cans for recycling. In talking with student sustainability REPs, they agreed that having a convenient way to redeem cans and bottles to get the nickel deposit back would get more people to recycle. We decided that the Greenbean would be a great way to make redeeming and recycling more convenient.”

Gogan also says that a search is underway to find a year-round campus student organization that would be willing to monitor the machine, swapping full containers with empty ones. The organization would earn up to $1,000 and a chance to solicit students to donate their deposits to their account.

How it works: 

  • Set up a Greenbean account with your phone number, email address, or through Facebook. Choose whether you’d like your account linked directly to a PayPal account or a charity of your choice. 
  • Bring your glass bottles, plastic bottles, and aluminum cans to the Greenbean machine. Greenbean will recognize and sort each material separately, eliminating cross contamination, the need for a trip to a sorting facility, and excess energy.
  • Collect your refund. Greenbean scans each recycled item to determine if it is eligible for a refund and instantaneously reimburses you—no deposit receipts here.
  • See real time feedback on your environmental impact—Greenbean will calculate the number of containers you recycle and your contribution to energy savings. 
  • Compete with your peers and other schools—Greenbean tracks stats from all operating locations at