Forget Tokens: Commuters Can Now Pay Subway Fare by Recycling

Machines at 34 subway stations in Beijing accept plastic bottles instead of cash.

(Photo: Twitter)

Staff Writer Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at GOOD.

Beijing has gotten plenty of bad press for its environmental crisis. The city was so polluted in January that officials created a fake sun billboard when the real one was obscured. But a successful recycling project in the city proves that residents are pretty gung ho about environmental issues, especially when they get free subway fare or mobile phone minutes in exchange for recycling.

Chinese recycling company Incom first set up 10 of the machines, which resemble a typical vending machine in a Beijing subway station, back in 2012, reports Recycling Today. The machines allow commuters to insert a plastic soda or water bottle in exchange for a transit pass or mobile phone credit. The machine has a sensor that is able to scan each bottle and determine how much it's worth. Commuters can get 5 to 15 cents per bottle. 

Thanks to the program's success, over the past two years the company has expanded installation of the machines to 34 subway stations. Now it plans to expand the recycling program to operate in 100 stations. 

These reverse vending machines make it a snap for the public to chuck whatever plastic bottle garbage they're toting as they commute, and they seem to be growing in popularity. Sydney launched a similar program in July. City officials put their Envirobank machines in areas with plenty of foot traffic and rewarded recyclers with everything from bus passes to food truck vouchers

As in the Sydney program, Beijing officials hope to put the new machines in the busiest stations, particularly those close to popular tourist destinations. More than 15,000 tons of plastic bottles are recycled every year in Beijing, according to officials. With the expansion of the Incom machines, that amount is expected to skyrocket. 

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