Recycling plastic pays for free transportation

Nearly 269,000 tonnes, of plastic float in the world’s oceans, causing damage throughout the food chain.

Many cities share the same problem when it comes to plastic litter and Istanbul came up with a creative solution, by giving free traveling in return for used plastic bottles. A good initiative according to Tom Zoete from the Recycling Network Benelux: ‘By making used plastic worth something you can see that people start treating it as something with value.’


Last month Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality announced via Twitter that the city will soon accept plastic bottles as a way of payment for public transportation. Via high tech ticket-vending machines you will now get credit on your transportation card when you turn in plastic. Istanbul is not the first city to come up with such a solution. In Beijing, China, a similar method for metro transport has already been used for about four years. People turn in plastic bottles and get a free subway ticket in return.

According to a 2015 study published in the Science Journal the yearly plastic waste in Indonesia is about 187.2 million tonnes. A lot of that eventually ends up in the sea, which makes Indonesia the second biggest marine polluter, right after China. Because of this big problem the second largest city of Indonesia, Surabaya, started letting its inhabitants pay for the bus by turning in used plastic. Via this new method people can now turn in bags full of used plastic waste and will in return get a valid bus ticket which they can use for two hours.
In Sidney it is also possible to turn in plastic bottles at certain machines, in return people can get credit which can be used for transportation, food vouchers or even movie tickets.

Even though these innovative ideas are so far only being maintained by certain big cities, countries in Europe often give deposits for turning in plastic, metal and glass at grocery stores. In countries as Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom this is already possible, France is working on it, but in Belgium this system is not getting enough support.

Tom Zoete does not understand why. ‘It has to do with a lobby from supermarkets and beverage manufacturers, they are resisting the deposit system from happening. Probably because of some logistic reason such as extra transportation costs for picking up the recycling materials.’ The results of a deposit system, however, are noticeable. ‘In Belgium you can really see the difference. You can get deposits for glass beer bottles, but not for beer cans. For that reason you will almost never see beer bottles on the streets, while beer cans are often spotted.’

In Belgium blue PMD garbage bags are used that collect the plastic bottles and tin cans. Just like other household waste the bags get picked up every other week. Zoete: ‘For small households it’s fine, but the out of home consumption has risen and you can’t expect that people will carry around an empty plastic bottle for the whole day, just to throw it away at home. Along the way they will probably throw it out in a regular garbage can, or in some cases on the street.’

‘For recycling the separated PMD bag isn’t helpful. The plastic waste that is collected via the blue garbage bag is not used for making new plastic bottles, but is being downcycled. It is intended for industrial uses. In Belgium only 5% of the plastic bottles is being recycled into new plastic bottles, by comparison in Norway this percentage for bottle to bottle recycling is 93%.’

‘People have to stop seeing used plastic as something worthless’
– Tom Zoete, Recycling Netwerk Benelux

In countries as Norway and Germany there is a lot less litter. They maintain a deposit system for almost every sort of bottles and cans. Zoete especially emphasizes how well these countries are doing regarding recycling. ‘People have to start seeing litter as something that isn’t useless. So by making it worth something by giving people back money, free transportation or any sort of reward, you can see that it helps the environment. There is no question about it, just compare the countries that do have a good deposit system like Norway and Germany with countries that don’t have it, like Belgium, and you can actual see big differences regarding litter.’

Text and picture: © Lune Bernstein