Chinese pay subway fares with plastic bottles

The world’s most populous country has come up with a creative solution to its staggering pollution problem by introducing recycling machines at city metro stations that provide subway credits for deposited plastic bottles. Started back in 2012 by Chinese recycling company Incom, the initiative has grown from 10 machines in downtown Beijing to machines in 34 stations around the city. The company eventually hopes to boost that number into the thousands, according to a news report on CCTV.

The machines themselves resemble vending machines, and have thus been dubbed “reverse vending machines” by the general public. In order to use the machines, subway riders deposit one or more plastic bottles into the designated bottle slot and receive a 5- to 15-cent reimbursement per bottle that goes toward offsetting the price of a metro ride. Riders simply tap their card on the machine and the reduction will automatically be updated.

plastic bottle

This little guy is earning his subway pass one plastic bottle at a time. Photo from Twitter

Incom faces a steep task in a city that produces close to 200,000 tons of plastic bottles a year. Depending on what sources you believe, city officials say that an average of 15,000 to 50,000 tons of plastic bottles are recycled every year, but that they expect that number to “exponentially increase” as more machines are introduced and the public is educated on how to use them.

Incom also thinks that placing these reverse vending machines in higher traffic stations could increase the amount of recycled bottles in the city and has put one of its new machines at the station near the Temple of Heaven—a stop that sees close to 60,000 visitors each day, according to a report by Recycling Today.

A few machines in one Chinese city is a long way from an end-all solution to pollution woes, but it’s a sustainable step in the right direction as far as Incom is concerned. The alternative recycling outpost has shifted the conversation and even inspired action in other parts of the world. In fact, city officials in Sydney introduced their own set of machines called Envirobank that offers bus passes and food truck vouchers in exchange for recyclables, proving that there is some life in the idea of helping the planet while cutting some costs in the process.

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