Recycling one glass bottle can net you five cents, if you live in the right state and find the right recycling facility. But what if earning money for recycling at home was even easier?
Philadelphia-based RecycleBank Inc., aims to do just that. The company rewards people with points for recycling at home in order to “change behaviors and attitudes—not as enforcers, but encouragers,” and to make “recycling understandable, easy and rewarding.”
RecycleBank’s users place their recyclables in a recycling bin equipped with a monitoring chip. On pickup day the hauler will scan and weigh the recyclables. The weight of the recycled material in the bin is converted into RecycleBank points deposited into the resident’s account. Residents can check their "balance" online and cash in their reward points for a maximum of $25 a month or $400 a year at several dozen national chains. They are also able to keep track of how much they are recycling.
RecycleBank first launched in Philadelphia in 2004. The company now operates throughout much of the northeastern United States including Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other states, with about 100,000 customers in total.
Recycling rates in one of the first Philadelphia neighborhoods that RecycleBank served rose from 7 percent to 90 percent in a matter of months, and total waste to landfills is down considerably. In Wilmington, DE, about 90 percent of residents participate in the program, and the amount of garbage headed to local landfills is down 40 percent. That saves the city roughly $800,000 a year on tipping fees to landfill owners.
The benefits of encouraging recycling are numerous. Cities save money as waste disposal costs go down. Landfills don’t fill up as quickly. And, consumers have an easy incentive to participate. When the average American generates 4.5 pounds of garbage every day, and the average family 2.5 tons per year, we’re not talking small potatoes.
There are other ways to make your recycling count, too. Take household recyclable materials to a recycling center that offers money. Sell used electronics, books, CDs, or clothing on eBay, at a local flea market, or at a thrift shop. Other niche websites exist for linking buyers and sellers of recycled goods, like www.trademyphone.com for cell phones and www.recycleinme.com for scrap metal.
As for household goods, curbside recycling is still the easiest way to reduce waste that heads to landfills, save energy related to waste disposal and creating new products, and reduce related air and water pollution, including the methane gas that landfills produce that contributes to global warming. Recycling four Sunday papers each month can save four trees each year, and recycling just one aluminum can save enough energy to run the television for three hours.
RecycleBank is currently working to expand to new communities. A pilot program for kiosk recycling at Columbia University has already proved a success, and the founders are now talking about expanding overseas to Britain, where landfill costs are even higher than in the states.
“There are so many environmental initiatives out there that are important,” said Ron Gonen, RecycleBank’s chief exeutive, in an interview with Time in April. “Solar, wind, biofuels. But these are all huge, capital-intensive projects. Most of us can’t do that, but we can recycle.”
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