Istanbul on Wednesday rolled out an alternative currency for commuters who need to top up their subway cards but are short of cash: recyclables.
The city is installing “reverse vending machines” at metro stations that allow passengers to add credit to their subway cards simply by inserting a plastic bottle or aluminium can into the machine.
Once a value has been assigned to the recyclables, the machine will crush, shred and sort the material.
The initiative aims to encourage recycling in the city of more than 15 million people, where recycling practices are scant or indifferent. But the alternative way of paying to travel is sure to be welcomed by commuters, as Turkey’s currency has been hammered lately, falling to record lows against the dollar because of soaring inflation, economic mismanagement by the Turkish government and tensions with the United States.
This is how the vending machines would work: A 0.33-liter plastic bottle, for example, roughly equivalent to 11 ounces, would add 2 Turkish cents to a subway card, while a 0.5-liter bottle would add 3 cents and a 1.5-liter bottle would add 6 cents. (A subway journey costs 2.60 Turkish lira, about 40 U.S. cents; 100 Turkish cents, or kurus, make up 1 Turkish lira.)
A commuter would need around 28 1.5-liter bottles to buy a single-journey ticket. Aluminium cans are more valuable, returning 9 Turkish cents for a 0.5-liter can.
Istanbul’s mayor, Mevlut Uysal, said the machines would track the number of bottles recycled by each passenger and reward those recycling the largest number of containers with free or discounted events such as theater tickets.
Turkey is Europe’s third-largest producer of household and commercial waste, after Germany and France, and it is the worst in the region at recycling, according to a 2017 report by the consultancy group Expert Market, which is based in Britain.
“Most households do not automatically recycle because they are unaware of the benefits to the environment, and others are just lazy,” Elif Cengiz, a manager for the waste management project, called Zero Waste, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “These new machines give people a direct incentive to recycle while educating them about the benefits of recycling.”
Cengiz explained that the municipality had made waste management a priority in recent years because of rising concern over the damage that waste is causing to the environment.
The country’s recycling drive has started to produce results, saving 30 million trees in 15 months since last June, said Mustafa Ozturk, the undersecretary for the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry.
More than half of all the plastic bottles in Turkey were recycled last year, according to the ministry, and more than 1.7 million tons of waste paper and cartons were recycled last year and in the first three months of 2018.
“This means we saved 24.6 million trees from being cut in 2017, and another 5.4 million in the first quarter of this year,” Ozturk said in a statement. “The use of recycled material in production contributes to productivity and separate storage for paper waste also saves storage space and decreases waste collecting costs for local administrations.”
The first reverse vending machines were installed at the ITU-Ayazaga Station, and the municipality plans to install at least 100 more at 25 locations across the city, including at schools and universities, by the end of the year.
Along with paying for subway rides, the cards can be used to ride the bus and tram, and even to gain access to public toilets.
“I sometimes use the recycling cans at school, but usually I forget and just put my bottles in a regular bin,” said Meltem Ozil, a philosophy student who uses the ITU metro station to get to university.
“I haven’t seen the new machines yet,” she said by phone, “but I’m sure all the students will use them to get some extra money. Who doesn’t want a free ride?”