Pay for Your Subway Trip with Plastic Bottles

by Logan Rowe


The world’s plastic problem has been an issue for a long while. Large quantities of plastic are consistently being manufactured and thrown away, often littering the world’s oceans and forests, causing harm to wildlife. Plastic bottles are a large component of this, mostly because bottled water is easy to take on a run and is more portable than drinking fountains–in fact, ever since the COVID-19 pandemic that has currently taken hold of the country, the use of water fountains has become almost nonexistent. However, Beijing may have a solution to this, something they came up with as far back as 2012.
Beijing has always had a high recycling rate for plastic bottles, but they’ve gone a step further and created “the reverse vending machine.” It works like this: you pay the machine a plastic bottle, the machine measures the bottle’s composition and weight, and you receive the associated amount of change for the bottle. These devices are mainly installed in Beijing’s subway station where vending machines were more common. This gives Beijing citizens the opportunity to essentially pay for their subway tickets with plastic bottles. Each time a bottle is inserted into the machine, the donor is given a prompt that asks whether they want to turn the money into a ticket or have it electronically transferred to their account.
These machines are run by Incom Recycling, a subsidiary of Asia’s largest recycler for polyethylene terephthalate (the material plastic bottles are made of), Incom Resources Recovery. They originally added 10 of these machines to Beijing’s subways in 2012, eventually adding 24 more reverse vending-machines within the next two years, with plans for a total of 3,000 by the time they are done.
These reverse vending-machines, while useful in Beijing, could also become a hot topic in the United States. In China, recycling is often viewed as a way to earn money, while Americans tend to consider it an environmental endeavor that we must pursue if we are to preserve the Earth for future generations, with little immediate reward. If the U.S. were to install machines like these in major cities, anywhere from Omaha to New York City, their presence could significantly reduce both the amount of trash produced every year and the amount of plastic that gets dumped in oceans or littered on roads. It’s estimated that around 500 billion plastic bottles are going to be produced next year; wouldn’t it be nice if we had a way to recycle all those bottles while simultaneously getting paid for it?
If you want to learn more about reverse vending machines in Beijing, consult this article for further reading!