Recycling For Dollars: Homeowners Go Green for Greenbacks

In the world of environmentalism, “market-driven” can be a dirty word, a thematic hangover from the sixties when it was widely believed that altruism and common sense should be enough to stop us from wrecking our planet. Alas, that kind of idea had more to do with wishful thinking than human nature, and in recent years the idea of using economic incentives to drive environmentally responsible behavior has gained currency.

One company taking that approach is RecycleBank, which uses innovative tracking and identification technology to reward folks for recycling.

It works like this: Households participating in the RecycleBank program are supplied with bins fitted with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. Recycling trucks belonging to municipalities or independent waste management companies are then equipped with RFID reading equipment. The reader scans the bins as they're being tipped into the truck, and records how much contents of the container weigh.

After the trucks complete their route, the data they've collected is transferred wirelessly to the RecycleBank system, which assigns reward dollars to participating households based on the weight of their recycled materials. The rewards—up to $35 a month—can be used to purchase goods and services from partners like IKEA, Whole Foods, and Timberland.

CEO Ron Gonen explains that RecycleBank wants to help bring environmentally sound thinking further into the mainstream. “We're a business which focuses on demonstrating that environmental solutions can also be economically profitable,” he says

The RecycleBank concept has a couple of things going for it that may give it some traction, the reward dollars topping the list. Another plus is that it’s a single-stream recycling program, meaning that all recyclables can be mixed together in the bins, rather than having to be sorted beforehand. By accommodating two universal human characteristics—acquisitiveness and sloth—RecycleBank hopes to vastly increase the amount of material being diverted from landfills.

Does it work? In the RecycleBank pilot project in two Philadelphia neighborhoods, households participating in recycling rose to 90 percent within six months, up from 35 percent in one area and 7 percent in the other. Since then, the program has expanded to cover almost 50,000 households in the United States.



Building incentives into recycling is a brilliant idea. What are the growth plans? I would love to have the option in California. Does this promote consumption of glass over plastic as this is a weight-based system? What are the ramifications of that? ~Jessi

The Recycle Bank is a great idea but they should pair the weight of the recycled product with the weight of the actual garbage produced by one household. People will think that to get more recycle bucks, I have to purchase more things that I can recycle. Instead of just reducing the amount of waste they generate as a whole.

I could not believe what I was reading. This was an idea that I had a few years ago and was hoping to develop.

Kudos, though.

They actually cap the amount of Recycle dollars at that can be earned $35/month in order to discourage people from buying more or heavier recylables than they need (or from sneaking non-recyclables into bins.)