In episode 20, season seven of Seinfeld, Newman and Kramer take a cross-country trip to Michigan in a U.S. Postal Service mail truck with 10,000 deposit cans to capitalize on the 10-cent return system. They ultimately don't make it to the Michigan border and lose their loot before reaching a single can and bottle return room.
That’s why Dr. Nathan Arnold, the founder of Nessie Solutions, describes his home deposit return system as including “anti-Newman” technology. Irony aside, Nessie is the first home deposit solution, and Arnold hopes it will help change perceptions about recycling.
“The power is in the consumer and the people, that's where (Nessie) will make the biggest impact,” says Arnold.
Nessie allows you to return cans and plastic bottles for credit or a direct donation to a nonprofit cause. Each barcode is scanned and identified using a cloud-based system and captures a pre- and post-crushing image to account for each deposit. The free Nessie app syncs to retailers' loyalty programs and tracks the amount of credits earned by the volume of returns.
Arnold says he got the idea for Nessie when thinking about a more efficient way to take care of empties without cluttering his garage. Nessie helps reduce the touchpoints of recycling, which reduces the miles traveled per can. Arnold says that most deposit cans have six touchpoints of recycling that include driving to a store, processing the deposits, and delivering them to a recycling plant. Nessie reduces those touchpoints to three. Consumer, Nessie, and plant.
The name “Nessie Solutions” refers to the mythical Loch Ness monster. Arnold thought the name was catchy and that his idea could be the mythical solution to home can and bottle returns. And, much like proponents of the myth of the Loch Ness monster, Arnold is working hard to make people believe in his idea.
“If I didn’t go after this challenge and this opportunity, I would have kicked myself in the future,” he says.
Making idea a reality
Arnold’s day job is at the North Ottawa Health System, where he works 12-hour shifts as an emergency room doctor. He fills in the rest of his time with Nessie. Although his medical background trained him for long hours, Arnold needed support to make his idea become a reality.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for an entrepreneur who doesn’t have a track record,” says Arnold, a Spring Lake resident.
Dr. Nathan Arnold shows off his Nessie deposit return system at the 2021 SURGE Celebration.
Through Lakeshore Advantage’s SURGE Program, Arnold was able to make connections with experts outside of his field — like SPARK, a custom software company based in Grand Rapids that helped develop the barcode-scanning technology.
“(Lakeshore Advantage) helped smooth the path to meet these people,” he says.
Never give up
Along with local companies Disher, which specializes in product design and engineering, and Ventura Manufacturing, Arnold was able to design and build Nessie prototypes that he could bring to market.
Even though Arnold faced closed doors and “nos” from prospective partners, he drew from his days working in the intensive care unit as a medical student, where he learned to never give up. This relentlessness still motivates him today.
“Doing something with purpose and doing something with meaning and benefit other than just for myself keeps the drive going,” Arnold says.
The pandemic forced retailers to adjust bottle return capacities, which led to longer lines and reduced returns. Arnold says Nessie is a model for “simple sustainability” and can help make a significant improvement in recycling in the state, even in a post-pandemic world.
Through the challenges of building his credibility as an entrepreneur, working around hospital shifts, and navigating prototypes, Arnold is still steadfast in the pursuit of making recycling simple and engaging.
“You don’t regret the challenges you do take, you regret the challenges you don’t take,” he says.
Nessie Solutions and Arnold were featured at the Lakeshore Advantage SURGE Celebration on June 17, marking five years of innovation and entrepreneurship with the Holland SmartZone. Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Gentex sponsored the event.
You can learn more about Nessie Solutions at nessiesolutions.com