Globe 100

Innovators | Clean tech

The machine that makes recycling a game

Shanker Sahai, Greenbean Recycle

Shanker Sahai, Greenbean Recycle
Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff
Shanker Sahai of Greenbean Recycle

SHANKER SAHAI, founder of Cambridge start-up Greenbean Recycle, is turning the drudgery of recycling bottles and cans into an eco-game, a sort of FarmVille of trash disposal.

The new company has created a high-tech machine that is both recycling depot and arcade game. A barcode reader counts each bottle or can, gives instant green feedback - “one aluminum can, 500 watts saved’’ - and electronically transfers the 5 cent deposit to a PayPal or other account.

Recyclers can track their progress online, compare stats with friends, and win prizes. Users can connect via Facebook, and Sahai intends to give machines Twitter accounts: “50 containers recycled today.’’


Sahai, 38, a civil engineer born in Zambia, said the idea came to him when he went to recycle a can, then had to stand in a long line at the grocery store to cash in the receipt for his five cents. “I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to go home,’ ’’he said. “I felt so disconnected from the whole recycling process.’’

Greenbean started last year with pilot programs at MIT, Brandeis, and Tufts. If Sahai has his way, 20 more Greenbean machines will be placed at colleges and other high-traffic areas. “One of my chief goals for Greenbean is to engage young people in recycling,’’ he said. “This is the demographic that is going to change how we recycle.’’