Recycling Centers Reward Local Recyclers

Waste Connections and RecycleBank recognize customers' extra work with a points system

Two home truths inspired a new home-based recycling program. Number one: people ordinarily do what is easiest; it's more convenient to toss trash than to recycle in this area, so that's what most people do.

Number two: If you make a reward for more difficult behavior rewarding enough, you can overcome number one.

Starting Monday, March 2, single-stream recycling collector Waste Connections is partnering with New York-based RecycleBank to tantalize its subscription-service recycling pick-up customers in Oak Ridge, Knoxville, and Knox County into hauling more soda cans and junk mail out to the curb. The more residential customers place in a 95-gallon brown cart provided by Waste Connections, the more points they can earn—2.5 points per pound—and redeem online for perks, discounts, and $10 gift certificates to places like Kohl's and Red Lobster. Fifty points earns free YoBaby yogurt, according to the example on the RecycleBank website, while 20 earn $2 off a $5 Kiss My Face skin care product.

"The average RecycleBank customer [in cities where the program is long-standing] earns 2,400 points a year, which works out to about $15-20 month in rewards," says Steve LaFollette, Waste Connections district manager in this area. "We have over 40 local reward partners, including Free Service Tire and Firehouse subs."

Here's how it works: If they're not subscribers already, people sign up with Waste Connections for single-stream recyclable collection, which costs $6.50 for two pickups per month (in Oak Ridge, the service is included in the city contract with Waste Connections). They then register separately for the RecycleBank reward system. Without sorting, they place all their recyclables in one large bin, including aluminum, steel, and tin cans; plastics #1-7; glass and colored glass; and mixed paper, cardboard, and newspaper. A Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip is embedded into each cart, and corresponds to the identification code for individual accounts. RecycleBank, which was honored as a 2009 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, scans and weighs the carts curbside, crediting points to an account that can be browsed and redeemed online.

There are a few limits. Customers can earn just 420 points a month, or a total of 5,400 curbside points per year, and some rewards expire or are one-time special offers. Points do accrue month-to-month and year-to-year without expiring unless subscribers drop the program or their account is inactive for more than six months.

The added reward program has not increased Waste Connection charges for single-stream recycling, nor were charges increased when the company shifted to much larger bins (95 gallons instead of 14) and the ability to collect mixed paper beginning Oct. 1, 2008. The mother company, which is known for targeting secondary and suburban markets, is thriving in a tough economy, reporting fourth quarter 2008 revenues of $259.6 million, a 4.8 percent increase over revenue of $247.7 million in the year ago period.

"In Knoxville and Knox County, we fund the whole program with the $6.50 per month subscription fee," says LaFollette. "In tough economic times like this, getting rewarded for recycling is a huge incentive—and we're also diverting more and more material from the landfill."

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