People from Beijing can now use one of the city's 34 newly installed facilities which allows them to pay for public transportation or charge their phone credit with empty plastic bottles.
China is the world's biggest polluter, and will likely stay so for years and years to come. The growth of their economy has been fueled by coal consumption, which is the dirtiest type of energy out there, and the Chinese smog (which could be seen from outer space) is already well known and documented. But we have to give credit where credit is due - not because of the size of the initiative (34 plastic recyclers are not that big of a deal), but rather because of the idea. Encouraging people to recycle plastic by offering them not money, but a service which is in itself more ecofriendly (public transportation) is a great idea.
Recently, we wrote that Beijing will shut down all its coal energy facilities by 2020 - that amounts to about 1% of the country's coal energy branch. While significant, the measure seems way overdue. But this, with the plastic recycling, is a measure that's ahead of the game. The machines work really goo to, at least if we take the word of Chinese officials. The machines are equipped with scanners to identify the material from which the recycled bottles are made.
At present, Beijing recycles 15,000 tons of plastic bottles per year, which may seem like much, but when you compare it to New York's over 750,000 tons of recycled plastic in 2010, doesn't seem like much. Beijing officials declared that they expect the recycling figures to grow "exponentially", but that seems a bit too ambitious.
Still, the big thing is that the machines will be placed (at least some of them) in front of the major touristic destinations. When you consider that 60.000 people pass in front of the Temple of Heaven each day, it seems like it could have quite a big impact. The problem I see is that you can't really have 60.000 people (in addition to locals) queue up to recycle plastic in order to get free transportation tickets. Hopefully, this is just a pilot initiative, and it will be successfully applied much more.