Title:
REFILLABLE VENDING SYSTEM AND METHOD
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system for reducing waste and encouraging recycling through a vending system which refills only those containers which are compatible with the vending system. The vending system distinguishes a container's compatibility with the vending system to permit refilling of the container.



Inventors:
Howard, Bruce (Rising Sun, IN, US)
Howard, Sherrie (Rising Sun, IN, US)
Uhlmansiek, Chris (Indianapolis, IN, US)
Uhlmansiek, Martha (Indianapolis, IN, US)
Application Number:
12/510762
Publication Date:
02/04/2010
Filing Date:
07/28/2009
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
215/386, 141/94
International Classes:
B65B1/04; B65B1/30; B65D23/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
NIESZ, JASON KAROL
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Brannon Sowers & Cracraft PC (Indianapolis, IN, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A vending system for providing products to containers which are compatible with the vending system.

2. The vending system of claim 1, further comprising a compatibility distinguisher.

3. The vending system of claim 2, wherein the compatibility distinguisher distinguishes a compatible container by a physical characteristic of the container.

4. The vending system of claim 2, wherein the compatibility distinguisher distinguishes a compatible container electronically.

5. The vending system of claim 2, wherein the compatibility distinguisher distinguishes a compatible container by a marking on the container.

6. A method of reducing the number of recyclable containers comprising transferring a product to a container that is compatible with a vending system, wherein the vending system does not transfer product to an incompatible container.

7. The method of claim 6, further comprising identifying that the container is compatible with the vending system.

8. The method of claim 7, further comprising providing additives to the product.

9. The method of claim 7, further comprising conditioning the product.

10. The method of claim 7, further comprising paying for the transferring of the product.

11. The method of claim 7, further comprising tracking the number of refills available.

12. The method of claim 7, further comprising sterilizing the container.

13. A container compatible with a vending system wherein the vending system refills only containers compatible with the vending system

14. The container of claim 13, further comprising an identifier recognizable by the vending system.

Description:

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 61/084,510, filed Jul. 29, 2008, which is hereby incorporated by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates to a vending system and, in particular, to a vending system that incorporates refillable containers.

BACKGROUND

Drinking bottled water has become amazingly popular. Wherever you go, you can't help but see someone with one. Bottled water identifies the drinker as healthy—concerned with staying hydrated and preferring water over carbonated drinks. But it's also becoming more of a necessity. If you don't bring the water with you, there may be no water available. Public drinking fountains have become a thing of the past.

But “water bottle” is no longer the refillable plastic container used by bicyclists. Today “water bottle” refers to the individual plastic container in which water is sold. It's small, convenient to carry, and consumers can take as many bottles as they want. When a bottle is empty, the plastic container is thrown away. More water is quickly available in a fresh, new plastic bottle. And that's the problem. The discarding of plastic bottles has resulted in large amounts of trash. It's become so bad that several cities have banned or stopped selling water in plastic bottles for city events or in city offices. Although bottled water is consumed by many concerned with their health, the discarded water bottles threaten that same health because of the damage it does to the environment. The same is true for other products packaged in disposable containers.

SUMMARY

The inventors recognized that the number of plastic bottles or other containers discarded could be reduced by increasing the container's value in the mind of the consumer.

Reducing the number of containers discarded is encouraged by providing a container that is compatible with an associated vending system such that the container can be refilled with the vending system. Instead of discarding a container after each use, the container may be refilled at a compatible vending system.

It is also contemplated that the container is purchased for a separate fee from the water to encourage the consumer to reuse the container rather than discard it. To further encourage the consumer to recycle rather than discard the container, it is also contemplated that the consumer receives a discount or credit toward the purchase of a new container when turning in the used container for recycling.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a flow chart illustrating the current consumption of a product.

FIG. 2 is a flow chart illustrating the consumption and refilling of a product according to one embodiment.

FIG. 3 is a vending system according to an embodiment.

FIG. 4 is a dispensing area of the vending system shown in FIG. 3

FIG. 5 shows a container identifier according to one embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 6 shows a container identifier according to another embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 7 shows a container identifier according to another embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 8 shows a container compatible with the container identifier shown in FIG. 7.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

For the purpose of promoting an understanding of the principles of the invention, reference will now be made to the embodiments illustrated and specific language will be used to describe the same. It will nevertheless be understood that no limitation of the scope of the invention is thereby intended, such alterations, modifications, and further applications of the principles of the invention being contemplated as would normally occur to one skilled in the art to which the invention relates.

The invention generally relates to a vending system and dispensing method for encouraging the refilling of containers rather than throwing them away after each use. It is also contemplated that the system encourages consumers to recycle rather than discard the containers.

FIG. 1 shows the usual sequence for consuming bottled water. A consumer buys the combination of a bottle and water for a single price, drinks the water, discards the empty valueless bottle, and obtains another combination of bottle and water. For every serving of water, a water bottle is discarded.

FIG. 2 reflects the sequence of events as contemplated in one embodiment. Unlike the bottled water above, the container and water are separate purchases. The container is purchased, the water is purchased, the consumer drinks the water, and the consumer refills the container paying for only the price of the water. Although listed as separate transactions above, it is also contemplated that the container includes water when initially purchased. Alternatively, the container's price also includes all refills. After the last refill, the container cannot be refilled and if the container is turned in for recycling, the consumer receives a discount on the purchase of another container.

To further encourage consumers to refill the container rather than discarding it, a compatible vending system is contemplated. A consumer can refill the container at the vending system. But the vending system is one that can only fill the compatible containers. Thus, by acquiring the container, a consumer is also acquiring access to refill the bottle at the vending systems. Because the vending system can only refill a compatible container, a compatible container is more valuable. The container can be plastic, metal, glass, or any other material.

Referring to FIG. 3, there is a vending system 10. A supply 20 provides product to the vending system 10. The supply 20 can be a container that is part of the vending system or alternatively be provided from a city utility or an in-ground well. The product can also be treated by passing it through a conditioner 30. Conditioner 30 includes, but is not limited to a filter, purifier, ion exchange, carbon filter, or reverse osmosis. Additionally, additives 32, including but not limited to, such as fruit flavoring, syrups, vitamins, herbs, or combinations thereof, can be added to the product either before the product is dispensed or while the product is being dispensed. Alternatively, the additives can be provided separately from the product and the consumer adds the additives to the product. The vending system 10 also includes a dispensing area 40 where the product is transferred to the container.

To receive product, the container must be compatible with the vending system 10. A compatibility distinguisher determines whether the container is compatible with the vending system 10. In one embodiment, as shown in FIG. 4, the compatibility distinguisher 50 recognizes an identifier 54, such as a bar code (shown in FIG. 5), that is part of the container. Alternatively, the identifier could also include an RF signal, magnet, magnetic strip. If a container is determined to be compatible, the filling operation is performed. When complete, the consumer removes the container from the dispensing area 40.

To keep the container clean and sanitary, a sterilizer 42 is provided in the dispensing area 40. In one embodiment, sterilizer 42 is an ultraviolet light. Alternatively, sterilizer 42 is an antiseptic that is applied to the container. If cleaning the container is desired, a washing station is also provided for cleaning the container with a detergent.

Vending system 10 can also accept payment prior to dispensing the product. The vending system 10 has a cash receiver 62, a coin slot 64, a credit card slider 66, a change return 68 or any additional method for receiving funds from a consumer. Alternatively, the consumer prepays for a number of refills or for unlimited refills for a period of time. For example, if prepay were included in the price of the container, purchasing the container entitles the consumer to unlimited number of refills for a period of time or until a certain date. The beginning period or terminating period could be incorporated into the container identifier. The identifier accepted by the compatibility distinguisher periodically changes. When the identifier is not recognized by the compatibility distinguisher, the vending system will not dispense product into the container.

In the embodiment shown in FIG. 6, compatibility distinguisher 150 limits access to the dispensing area 40 based on the physical characteristics of the container 152. For example, compatibility distinguisher 150 is an opening having a shape corresponding to the silhouette of a compatible container. In this embodiment, the identifier would be the shape of the container. To be placed in the dispensing area, the container must pass through the compatibility distinguisher 150. To facilitate positioning the container in the dispensing area 40, the container may optionally have a handle 156. In another example, shown in FIG. 7, the compatibility distinguisher 250 is an extension within the dispensing area 40. A compatible container 252, as shown in FIG. 8, includes a recess identifier 254 that can accommodate the compatibility distinguisher 250 so that the opening of the container can be placed under the dispensing spout 44.

This embodiment could also provide unlimited refills for a period of time. Similar to the situation described above, the accepted identifier could change. For example, the vending system may include compatibility distinguisher having multiple silhouettes which are periodically changed. This changing can be done manually or automatically according to a schedule. After changing, the previous shaped container is no longer accepted. To use the vending system, a new container with an acceptable identifier must be purchased.

The vending system has been described primarily as dispensing water, but the vending system can dispense other types of products in other embodiments. The products could include any liquid product including beverages, detergents, etc. Additionally, the products could include solids or even gases that are placed into a container.

While the disclosures have been illustrated and described in detail in the drawings and foregoing description, the same is to be considered as illustrative and not restrictive in character, it being understood that only the preferred embodiment has been shown and described and that all changes and modifications that come within the spirit of the disclosure are desired to be protected.