A new system being tested encourages recycling at three Metro stations.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated August 06, 2019
rome metro recycling
Credit: ANDREAS SOLARO/Getty Images

According to EPA figures from 2015, about 30 percent of plastic bottles and jars are recycled. That number isn’t bad – and it’s significantly higher than the overall recycling rate – but it’s still low when you consider how easy these items are to recycle. So how do you raise that percentage in practice? Rome is testing an interesting system: letting people swap plastic bottles for subway rides.

The Italian capital has launched a 12-month trial at three subway stations where commuters can use reverse vending machines to deposit plastic bottles in return for five euro cents each towards a ride on the Metro. A Metro ticket currently costs €1.50, meaning a ride costs 30 bottles – but thankfully, people wanting to use the new system don’t have to push around a shopping cart of plastic. Earnings can be banked until they are ready to be redeemed through the app.

Mayor Virginia Raggi said the project – called “Ricicli + Viaggi” or “Recycle + Travel” – means that Rome is the “first large European capital” to test such a system, according to The Local. As the site Beverage Daily points out, a somewhat similar system can be found at in Istanbul’s subway system in Turkey. Meanwhile, Italian authorities also reportedly suggested that accepting bottles for tickets had a benefit beyond simply encouraging people to recycle: They believe it may cut down on the number of people riding the Metro without a valid ticket as well.

After the year-long trial is over, Rome will review the results to see if the scheme should be expanded beyond its initial three stations or simply ditched all together.

There’s an inherent logic to offering this kind of recycling at the subway: How often have found yourself carrying an empty plastic bottle around while traveling? But at the same time, during rush hour, even just getting through the turnstile at a subway station can be a pain. “I believe there will be endless queues so they will need more plastic collection machines,” an enthusiastic Rome resident told the site Euronews. That definitely sounds like the subway I’ve come to know. With any luck the system will succeed and expand to other stations, and other cities will follow suit.