It’s a commuter’s dream come true — people in Beijing can board the subway by paying their fare with empty bottles. While it sounds like a hoax, the folks in Beijing can actually ride the transit system in exchange for recyclables.

How does this work?

It’s supposed to be as simple as an ATM, Beijing has devices set up around the city known as “reverse vending machines” and you feed them empty plastic bottles for subway credits in return. Last December, two of these environmentally friendly machines were given homes in the Beijing Capital International Airport while four of them live in the city’s subway stations.

Of course, these recycle-to-ride machines are competing against human armies of bottle-collectors. See, China already has a competitive polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle recycling industry and skeptics worry donors may want to receive market price for their recyclable treasures.

“In the west, recycling is seen as a green activity. In developing Asia, it is an economic activity,” Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet, a book about China’s scrap business, explained to The Guardian.

While this is a neat recycling system idea, is it energy efficient?

Incom, the operating company putting out these machines, claims to make the cleanest, most efficient use of their share of plastic bottles.  This is an important environmental initiative as many of the underground PET set-ups take the reusable plastic for clothes and toys as they generate more pollution in their process.

When it comes to being more energy efficient, Incom is making it more of a priority as they are using green campaigning to win the war of the recyclables.  According to deputy general manager of Incom, Liu Xuesong, most informal PET recycling workshops create water and land pollution — wasting resources.

Environmental activists aren’t passing any judgment on these reverse vending machines just yet. “Using better technology for recycling is a good thing, generally speaking,” Feng Yongfeng of the Green Beagle NGO told The Guardian.

But this concept of recycling for rewards isn’t new — in fact, similar devices and programs have been set up in the United States, Japan and Brazil.

What do you think of these reverse vending machines? Wouldn’t it be awesome if the TTC set up something of the like in Toronto subway stations?  Leave your comments below!

Image Credit: YouTube