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Residents find recycling has its just reward

Written by The Boston Globe
Published: July 27, 2008

By John Laidler Globe Correspondent

Everett has found a new way to spur its citizens to recycle: Reward them for doing it.

Under a new city program, residents earn discount coupons at participating local and national stores based on how much they recycle.

The city is offering the incentive through a contract with Recyclebank, a four-year-old New York-based firm that created and administers the system.

Everett officials said the program could offer a solution to a problem they have struggled with for years: how to boost the city's meager recycling rate and cut trash disposal costs. Until now, only 4 to 5 percent of Everett households recycle, according to Jon E. Norton, the city's recycling coordinator. The city picks up curbside recyclables every other week as part of its trash collection service.

When he learned about the Recyclebank program at a conference in 2006, Norton said he was convinced it was just what Everett needed.

"I was at my wit's end trying to figure out how to get our recycling rate up. I couldn't go to pay-as-you-throw because it drives people crazy when you tell them they have to buy trash bags. When I saw this, I knew it was for us," he said.

With the Recyclebank program, the city also is offering residents the convenience of being able to deposit all recyclables in one bin, rather than having to sort them. Recyclebank requires such a "single stream" feature for all its communities, and Everett was able to comply because the Charlestown facility that receives its recyclables recently began accepting them that way.

Everett pays $76 per ton to dispose of its trash at the RESCO trash-to-energy plant in Saugus. The city receives $10 per ton for its recyclables.

In Recyclebank communities, customers receive rolling containers with embedded computer chips that identify the household. Trucks collecting the curbside containers are equipped to scan and weigh them. Company computers in Philadelphia track the total weight of recyclables for each customer, and convert it to reward points redeemable as discounts at participating businesses.

"We've educated them, we've rewarded them, and we've given them better tools to do it," Anthony Casali, Recyclebank's regional manager for the New England area, said of the company's customers. "Ultimately, that works out to great recycling numbers. And you sustain that."

Everett, which began the Recyclebank program on a trial basis in one neighborhood in March and expanded it citywide this month, became the 11th Massachusetts municipality served by the company, and the first city. It is also the first in the state to contract directly with Recyclebank - in other places, the company dealt with haulers.

Revere recently became the 12th Recyclebank community in the state when it contracted to implement the program on a trial basis one day a week for six months starting in August. If it works out, Mayor Thomas G. Ambrosino said he would look to implement the program citywide.

"Our recycling rates are pathetic. So I'm trying anything to increase them," he said, estimating only about 3 percent of Revere residents recycle. "This seemed like a way to do it without imposing a trash fee or a pay-as-you-go program. We'll see how it works."

Casali said Recyclebank is in active discussions with Boston, Chelsea, Melrose, Medford, Salem, Somerville, and Winthrop about starting the program to those communities.

Norton said that the services provided by Recyclebank in Everett involve no cost to the city or residents.

Recyclebank footed the full cost of outfitting the trucks used by the city's trash hauler, Capital Waste, with the equipment needed for the program. It also paid for nearly 15,000 recyclable containers and informational kits distributed to residential and business customers. In all, it invested just over $1 million, Casali said.

The company's earnings will come through receiving a percentage of the savings Everett generates from reducing the amount of trash disposal.

Norton said the results of the trial program were encouraging. Until now, city households on average recycled about 83 pounds a year. In the pilot neighborhood, that rate climbed to 830 pounds. The participation rate, meanwhile, rose to about 50 percent.

Because the trial run was going so well, the city opted to implement the program citywide five months ahead of schedule.

In spite of the educational campaign, Norton said he has had to handle numerous queries from residents confused about how the system works. But he said the response has been positive.

"Most of the calls are from people telling me how much they appreciate the program," he said. "A lot of people are asking for a second cart because they are doing so much recycling. They can't wait two weeks."

To read this article on The Boston Globe, please visit their site.

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