When we talk about delivery robots, it’s often a one-way transaction: a robot delivering food (or whatever) to a customer. But KimBong-jin, CEO and Founder of Korean company Woowa Brothers, thinks the convenience is two-way, with robots taking items like recycling away from the customer.

Woowa Brothers owns Baedal Minjok: the top food delivery app in Korea, where 7 in 10 people have used a food delivery app. In an interview with Korea JoonAng Daily, Bong-jin laid out a number of the benefits of using delivery robots including cheaper fees, increased security and the ability to take stuff away from a customer’s house. From that Q&A (emphasis ours):

I want to have robots deliver not only food but also food ingredients, products sold at convenience stores, medicine and even newspapers. On their way back from delivering, robots could pick up recyclable waste from customer’s houses and throw it away. If consumers no longer have to buy a large amount of products at once at a supermarket thanks to delivery robots, the capacity of refrigerators would also be reduced.

I had a bit of a “duh, of course!” moment when reading that. Rather than sending an empty robot back to home base or to the next restaurant, it should make itself useful throughout its entire trip. Taking out the trash, as it were, seems like a pretty good start.

There are obviously some issues with that: keeping the robot clean, having convenient locations to accept recycling, making sure people are not just dumping whatever they want to get rid of in the robots.

But all these problems can be addressed. It could reduce plastic waste by having re-usable food containers. This could be much like the glass milk bottles of old, an order for food delivery would have its own containers that would be returned with the next order.

Or, thinking more broadly, with grocery or package delivery, customers could return cardboard boxes or packaging back to their origin for re-use and recycling.

The point is that as we think about delivery robots hitting our streets, we should remember that their journey is not just one-way. Let’s put those returning robots to work!

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