April 15, 2010

New Kiosks at Union Square Whole Foods Make Recycling a Nightmare

Review of Greenopolis units at new Whole Foods. User tried to recycle product not sold at Whole Foods.

By Vinita Singla
Special to DNAinfo
UNION SQUARE — Despite an eco-friendly mission statement that has made it the go-to grocery store for green-minded Manhattan shoppers, customers looking to recycle empty drink containers at Whole Foods' busy 14th Street hub face an uphill battle.
Up until three weeks ago, the Union Square mega store accepted glass, plastic and aluminum at the customer service station in exchange for the state-mandated cash deposit return. Now, only a select few recyclables are redeemable in person, while customers are directed to recycle everything else at new automated machines in the front entrance, Whole Foods officials said.
But recent attempts to use the two new recycling kiosks — or "greenopolis" machines — revealed a host of headaches for well-meaning recyclers.
Those who use the machines say they jam easily, fill up quickly, and require Whole Foods staffers to come and clean them out. They also reject standard recyclables accepted elsewhere, critics said.
“It’s not accepted at this location, which is bizarre because it’s the right kind of plastic,” said Jonathan Willis, 35, as he futilely scanned the UPC code on his Gatorade bottle Tuesday afternoon inside the Whole Foods entrance.
Recyclers are having a tough time getting their deposit back with the new Whole Foods automated machine. (DNAinfo/Vinita Singla)
Willis said he came all the way from his home on the Upper West Side to try out the new machine, which is touted as the only one in the city. The dedicated recycler said he often carries around empty bottles until he can find a place to recycle them for fear of tossing them out.
After a try at the new system at Whole Foods, Willis was ready to take his recyclables elsewhere.
First Willis stepped up to the cheerfully-decorated machine and read the printed directions. He scanned the bar code on his empty plastic bottle under a reader to see if the electronic kiosk would recognize it.
After a series of attempts, all of which resulted in error messages, Willis realized he was standing at the machine that only accepted aluminum and glass. So he moved to the machine that accepted plastic and tried again. Yet another error message popped up, at which point he gave up on the Gatorade bottle and moved on to a Fiji water bottle, which registered on the first try. Then the machine pointed an arrow towards the hole where he deposited the bottle.
Next, Willis’ friend Verna Andrews tried depositing a series of plastic bottles, including some provided to her by a reporter. Her first two plastic water bottles went through fine, but her third triggered a “we’re sorry” message on the kiosk’s screen.

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Posted by staff at April 15, 2010 01:39 PM