How is Rome Changing the Way They Manage Their Plastic Waste?

Rome, as one of the most polluted European capitals, is hardly what you could consider environmentally friendly. With many unlikely cities such as Ljubljana and Budapest getting with the program with bike lanes and clean water initiatives, Rome has some catching up to do. And catch up it has.

To try to promote recycling and reduce street trash, the Roman municipality started a new initiative called Ricicli+Viaggi (Recycle+Travel). In this fantastic initiative, people can bring their empty plastic bottles to one of three metro stations, insert them in a machine that crushes and sorts them, and then gain digital credits going towards transit fares. This is a great solution to help rid the city of at least some of its waste, and a terrific interim solution until the city bans plastic bottles altogether. 

How is Rome Changing the Way They Manage Their Plastic Waste?

The machines are hardly generous, offering only five cents per bottle. Though this is not a significant amount, and the metro is quite affordable at 1.50€, this initiative will also help low-income people get around the city. Nonetheless, it takes thirty bottles to get one metro ride, which can take time for the machine to process. However, people are clearly taking to the initiative based on how many people line up to use them. This is primarily a way to save money, which people are always drawn to.   

Thus far, the machines are only available in the Cipro, Pyramid, and San Giovanni stations, if the project continues on the route of success over the course of the next twelve months, it will be expanded further. Paulo Simoni, president of Rome’s public transit network Atac, was quoted with:

“In a period in which crypto-currency is talked about, we have plastic currency. Substantially, it’s a system in which one recycles, we build customer loyalty, and citizens’ virtuous behavior is rewarded.”

The idea is that recycling and indirectly reusing the bottles will stick and encourage people to be more aware of where they dispose of their garbage even when they aren’t waiting for a transit ride.

Rome has been so overwhelmed with rubbish in recent months, to the point that the chief physician has issued a hygiene alert earlier this summer. He pointed out that the alert could be expanded to a health warning, with disease spread through the feces of insects and animals gorging on rotting waste. The city has been highly misfortunate in the last couple of years with regards to their trash disposal. One of the city’s three landfills closed in 2013, and the others were ravaged by fires in recent months. In addition, two biological treatment sites are partially closed to maintenance. As a result, Romans are seeing their trash spilling over onto the streets. This is in spite of paying nearly twice as much in waste collection fees as other big cities in the country. Some examples include 353€ in Venice and 266€ in Florence, compared to the obscenely high 597€ in Rome. 

How is Rome Changing the Way They Manage Their Plastic Waste?

Even though the waste problem goes far, far beyond plastic bottles, the fact that the city is making the effort to make a dent in the issue is a very positive development. We hope that the citizens of the historical city will see that change is possible from a grassroots level and that they will continue these efforts independently.

The Recycle+Travel project is the first of its kind in Italy, turning Rome into an innovator. There are similar programs established in Beijing and Istanbul, which are also cities with major waste and pollution problems.