Plastic as means of trade
The first to employ such a strategy was the city of Sidney. The Australian city has debuted the Envirobank reverse vending machine, an innovative effort that officials hope will make it easy and fun for people to recycle. The machines are in Sydney’s Circular Quay and Chinatown neighborhoods, which are both highly trafficked by locals and tourists. If someone is out walking and drinking something in a can or a plastic bottle, they can dispose of the empty container in the machine. In exchange, the city gives the consumer a recycling reward—from bus passes and food truck vouchers to tickets to the city’s world-famous New Year’s Eve party.
Like most cities, Sydney has had traditional recycling bins in public places for years. But those haven’t been particularly successful, because people throw all kinds of other trash in them. As a result, only about 42 percent of bottles and cans are able to be recycled. Contamination problems are avoided with the reverse vending machines because they only accept bottles or cans; you can’t stick a takeout food box in them. And because the Envirobank crushes materials when they’re inserted, it can hold up to 3,000 containers—plenty more than the average recycling bin.
The city of Beijing has also followed suit quickly. It has installed 34 reverse vending machines in subway stations throughout the city. When a passerby inserts an empty plastic bottle, the machine’s sensor scans it to assess the value of the plastic – anywhere from 5 to 15 cents – and spits out a public transportation credit or extra mobile phone minutes. The reward is commensurate with the quality and number of bottles being fed into the machine, although there is also the option for people such as tourists, who don’t need the rewards, to insert bottles anyways.
This idea should be expanded not only globally but also into other sectors of consumer goods. Encouraging people to recycle makes lots of sense, especially when some economic understandings are being formed. The fact that when consumers are paying for a bottle of water they are also paying for the plastic, and when they recycle part if not all of that cost should be returned to them, is common sense. In sharp contrast to many recycling companies who charge you for a dedicated garbage bin and pickup, the understanding that companies should be actually rewarding consumers for their recyclable garbage, including organic trash that can be turned into compost, should be the way for the recycling industry to go forward.