Home ยป Swapping plastic bottles for metro rides

Swapping plastic bottles for metro rides

A few cities are testing an innovative recycling scheme that lets riders pay for transportation with plastic bottles.
plastic bottle waste

Cities across the world are struggling to solve the plastic pollution problem. A few have started with an idea to offer free metro in exchange for plastic bottles.

Rome is one of those cities, which has been testing the program called “Ricicli + Viaggi,” or Recycle + Travel, at three subway stations — including the Cipro station on Line A, Piramide on Line B, and San Giovanni on Line C.

Under the scheme, commuters can deposit plastic bottles in return for five euro cents each, which can be used toward the cost of a ride on the metro. Those cents can be accrued on the metro app until they hit the price of a metro ticket, which is currently โ‚ฌ1.50. In other words, for every 30 bottles you bring, you get a free metro ride.

Environment Minister Sergio Costa liked the program but added that the ideal thing would be to “consume less single-use plastic and opt for reusable bottles.” And he has a point since Italians drink more bottled water than any other European nation, at 188 litres per person, making recycling empty bottles a major issue.

Rome is by no means the only city trying to tackle the plastic pollution problem with free metro rides. A similar scheme was launched in Beijing in 2014, and in Istanbul plastic bottles can help pay for both tram and subway trips.

Also, in the Indonesian city of Surabaya – buses accept plastic cups and bottles as payment for journeys. A two-hour bus ride costs 10 plastic cups, or five plastic bottles.

According to the organizers of World Earth Day, we buy 1 million plastic bottles every minute, with discarded bottles making up just part of the 275 million tonnes of plastic waste generated worldwide each year.


Plastic pollution is a problem many cities across the globe are facing, with plastic bottles accounting for a big chunk of all that garbage. Some cities are experimenting with clever schemes that offer monetary incentives to those properly disposing of their plastic bottle waste. Specifically, cities like Rome, Beijing, Istanbul and Surabaya have been providing free transportation in exchange for those bottles, after which the bottles are properly recycled. The initiatives like these are relatively easy to implement and we expect to see them being introduced in other cities, as well.
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Action point

Helping solve the plastic pollution problem in any city could directly translate into votes for savvy politicians. A scheme offering free metro, tram or bus rides in exchange for the riders' plastic bottles is relatively easy to implement and could prove beneficial for the entire city. It doesn't require significant resources yet it could deliver tangible results in a short period of time. At the very least, it could be tested starting with a few major stations and eventually — if proven successful — expanded to the entire network.

A savvy business could propose the local government a scheme to offer free metro, tram and/or bus rides in exchange for the riders' plastic bottles. That business could help the government launch and manage the initiative with technology and its organizational capabilities. Despite being relatively easy to implement, the scheme still requires pickup stations, delivery to the recycling center and related logistics. Those are tasks that would be added on top of the already busy city staff, leaving room for a private sector to chip in and make some money along the way.