Tomra was founded on an innovation more than 40 years ago for the return of empty beverage containers. Brothers Petter and Tore Planke created a solution in their shed in Asker, Norway, to a local problem: a grocer wanted a machine that could quickly and easily take back empty bottles.
In 1972 the company was officially founded and, by the end of the year, it had installed 29 machines in Norway. Their success soon began to generate interest abroad. By 1973, Tomra had entered into several distribution agreements for markets in Europe and the US.
From 1972-76, the company’s revenue grew from NOK 700,000 (£65,000) to NOK 6.9m. The first major sales breakthrough happened in 1974 when Swedish state-owned wine retailer Systembolaget ordered 100 machines, specially adapted to the conveyor equipment that was already installed in its sales outlets.
The launch of the first self-programmable RVM, the Tomra SP, positioned the company far ahead of its competition. In 2005, UK supermarket giants Tesco and Sainsbury’s tested a reverse vending system for packaging materials such as glass, paper, cans, plastic and in liquid cartons. It was backed by £1.2m funding from WRAP, but has failed to catch on.
Tomra was in the UK market from 2006-14, with around 100 recycling centres in Tesco shops around the UK. These centres took plastic, glass and cans, plastic bags and cardboard/paper. But Tesco changed direction and decided not to offer the service.
Although now withdrawn from the UK, Tomra’s reverse vending division has installed more than 75,000 RVMs across the world.