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Tike Miller's Can-Eating 'Goat' Pays for Its Supper and May Gnaw on Litterbugs

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It looks like a giant, gaudy pinball machine in permanent tilt, but instead of eating coins it dispenses them. What the Golden Goat (as creator Tike Miller dubbed it) devours is aluminum cans. “This is the first vending machine where you throw in junk and get back money,” says Miller. If the contraption works as well as in its current test in 20 Phoenix shopping centers, then Golden Goats may spread like Golden Arches.

All that glittered in Miller’s past wasn’t quite so Rube Goldberg. Heretofore a Scottsdale toymaker, his previous hot item was a machine that molded plastic dinosaurs. But on learning that more than 75 percent of the 27 billion cans manufactured in the U.S. annually were not recovered, Miller sought a solution. “Aluminum manufacturers have been spending millions to clean up the country and conserve energy through recycling,” he notes. Yet 640 million pounds of aluminum are left lying around each year. So he and partner Bob Attarian, who developed the machine’s electronic system, set to work and within just two years got their Goat.

After cans are dumped into a hopper and pushed through an opening, the machine starts automatically. “First it separates out all of the nonmagnetic materials,” Miller explains, “leaving steel and other metals to be separated by magnets.” Another operation extracts the aluminum cans. These are blown through a flywheel crusher which reduces them to 17 percent of their original size. The crushed cans are then weighed on a solid-state electronic scale, and coins pour out like a jackpot from a one-armed bandit. The payoff can be adjusted (up to 99¢ a pound) in sync with the going market for aluminum scrap. A Goat can gorge 7,000 cans per hour. Yet, shrewdly, it was kept small enough to fit into a single parking space, making it ideal for malls, gas stations, parks and picnic grounds.

Miller expects to have 6,000 Goats in operation within two years and also foresees multiple benefits: “The kids will be able to make spending money by cleaning up the environment; the investors who lease the machine will get their money back by selling aluminum to the manufacturers, and Bob and I will smile all the way to the bank.”