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Rewards a boost for recycling

Written by Larisa Brass, Knoxville News Sentinel
Published: February 1, 2011

A local garbage collection firm is watching East Tennessee warm to recycling even as the economy has made for difficult expansion in the industry.

Today, the city of Alcoa officially kicks off the Recyclebank program, which uses radio frequency technology to track the volume of recyclables that participating customers contribute and offers reward points — participating retailers include Walmart, Dick's Sporting Goods and Ruby Tuesdays — as an incentive to stick with the program.

Nearly two years after the program was introduced by Waste Connections in Oak Ridge and Jefferson City, the California company's local municipal marketing manager, Douglas McGill, said it's the first program that's lured large percentages of customers to recycle and kept them participating. Since that launch, Waste Connections has offered the Recyclebank program on a subscription basis to Knoxville customers. City of Alcoa customers will pay $3 a month for the service, a charge that will be tacked onto their utilities bills.

'They're going great guns. We've got high participation,' McGill said. 'It's not dropping like I've experienced.'

Between 70 percent and 90 percent of customers have signed up for the service where it's available, he said. In Oak Ridge, for example, the company collected 78 tons of recyclables under the early non-Recyclebank version of the city's program and 125 tons when the service shifted to single stream, saving customers the work of sorting newspapers, plastic bottles and cans. With Recyclebank, that amount steadily increased from 195 tons in March 2009, when the program was introduced, to nearly 250 tons a few months later, according to statistics provided by Tennessee Public Works.

'People call in and they're just tickled to death,' McGill said. 'How many times have you sat there and said, ‘I'm going to call my garbage company and say, ‘You're doing such a great job'?'

For Knoxville residents, the rewards system — which McGill said adds up to $15-$20 worth of perks for the typical household each month — helps offset the cost of the service. For other customers, he said, it simply keeps them motivated to drag their recycle bin to the curb. He said Recyclebank's website, which provides up-to-date information on a customer's recycling tally along with corresponding info like how many trees they've spared, also helps keep the service relevant to customers.

That said, recycling has not been the easiest business over the past couple of years, as the recession has dampened demand for items such as cardboard, paper and glass. Until recently, McGill said, Waste Connections has paid for recycling centers to take their waste.

'(The recycling industry is) now just getting back on its feet,' he said. 'We're back close to breaking even and very happy for that.'

The economic uptick also may help more cities get on the recycling bandwagon as well, McGill said. Waste Connections is starting to talk with more potential customers, such as Tellico Village, he said, and is seeing more municipalities, including Dandridge and Morristown, put trash collection bins on the street that include a recycling rewards component.

McGill estimated the company has 28,000 customers participating in the Recyclebank program 'and fixing to get a lot bigger,' he said. 'Eighty percent of your waste, by volume, can be recycled. … Why throw it away?'

You can also view this great article here.

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The Coca-Cola Company, Craton Equity Partners, Generation Investment Management, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Paul Capital Investments, Physic Ventures, RRE Ventures LLC, Sigma Partners, Waste Management Inc., and Westly Group

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