In The NewsRSS

City hopes incentive program pays off

Written by Meredith Mandell,
Published: February 22, 2010

Put a 32-gallon recycling bin and a 10-inch stack of newspapers on the curb, and you could eventually earn $4 off at CVS when you spend $20 or more. Do that twice, and you could get a free cup of coffee or an ice cream cone at McDonald's.

A DPW employee from a participating town collecting commingled items for RecycleBank.

One city has become the first in North Jersey to sign up with a recycling incentive program offered by a New York company, RecycleBank, that has partnered with towns in 20 states, providing residents points that can be redeemed online for retail goods or discounts.

The program is expected to roll out this summer in Paterson, following City Council approval this month, but 12 South Jersey towns and cities such as Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia already have running programs.

Newark is "hot to trot" to start the program there, a company vice president said.

How it works

Depending on the existing recycling infrastructure, RecycleBank will use radio frequency identification (RFID) or global positioning satellite (GPS) technology to identify, track and record household recycling efforts.

Participating households receive a recycling cart equipped with an ID tag to link the cart to the household address and account number (the tag carries no other information).

On pickup days, trucks retrofitted with RecycleBank technology identify the cart at pickup. The weight of the recyclables is converted into points, which are then deposited into a household’s account.

Redeeming points is just like shopping online with more than 20 categories to choose from, including food and grocery, sports and recreation, entertainment, restaurants, health and beauty and donations.

Points can be redeemed at participating local and national partners, including major retailers and brands such as Coca-Cola, Kraft, Dick’s Sporting Goods, CVS pharmacy and Bed, Bath &Beyond.

Source: RecycleBank

Paterson officials want to boost residents' lagging recycling percentages and better track what people put in their trash. Paterson residents now recycle 8 percent, or 7,700 tons, of the 95,000 tons of solid waste thrown out annually, said city Recycling Coordinator Diane Polifronio.

Polifronio said the city's recycling rates are typical for an urban area but are way below the Passaic County average of 32.9 percent. Although Paterson requires residents to recycle by ordinance — violators could face fines of up to $1,500 or community service — enforcing the law is difficult, she said.

Tenants' high turnover rates, the difficulty of teaching foreign-born residents about recycling and finding inspectors who speak Arabic or Spanish, all complicate the task, Polifronio said. And determining who tossed recyclables in the garbage is problematic in multiple-unit dwellings.

"You can't compare it to Fair Lawn," she said. "We need to get people to participate a little bit more and do better enforcement."

However, all 21 New Jersey counties have had trouble meeting a statewide target of recycling 50 percent of their solid waste disposal.

"Packaging, our general consumption habits, lifestyle, public awareness are all factors," Larry Hajna, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman, wrote in an e-mail.

"Sometimes people feel too rushed to recycle … or they may eat a lot of fast foods … or they use a lot of prepared packaged foods that contain packaging that can't be recycled or that people don't realize can be recycled," he said.

Paterson also hopes the program will be a money-maker.

Right now the city pays $76-a-ton in tipping fees to haul its trash to landfill. By diverting some of the trash into recyclables, the city would save on those fees and create more recyclable commodities that the city can sell.

RecycleBank estimates Paterson's participation in the program would increase the city's 46,000 households' recycling percentages by 6 percent and generate anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 a year in additional revenue.

Bob Milligan, RecycleBank's vice president for the mid-Atlantic region, said municipalities in the past ticketed people who didn't recycle properly — what he calls the "stick approach."

"What we bring to the table is the carrot approach. If you do something, we're going to pat you on the back and reward you," he said during a recent morning in Brooklawn, a population-2,200 blue-collar Camden County town that signed on with RecycleBank four years ago.

"Our numbers skyrocketed immediately, from 10 pounds per a household, per a week, to 16 to 17 pounds per a week," said Donna M. Domico, public works manager for Brooklawn, recalling the program's inception there.

On the borough's quiet residential streets, public works trucks roll through to pick up 20-gallon blue recycling bins among 1,000 participating residents. (Paterson residents will each receive 32-gallon cans.) When workers dump recyclables into the back of the truck, a device similar to an E-ZPass scanner reads the ID tag on the back of each recycling can. A scale in the bed of the truck weighs the recyclables in pounds.

Every pound recycled is equal to 2.5 points, and one point is equal to about 10 cents. When finished, the device beeps to signal the process has been completed.

"For people, especially on fixed incomes, it's tangible money," Domico said.

"It makes sense for everybody. The cities win, RecycleBank wins, the market wins with more recyclable commodities, and the homeowner wins."

Brooklawn's program is community-based, as will be Paterson's, meaning residents are awarded points based on the amount of total tonnage they recycle collectively, not individually. Officials said the approach doesn't discriminate against senior citizens, whose contribution to recycling would be smaller, say, than that of a family of four.

Paterson's program will differ slightly from Brooklawn's: City residents will have to separate their recyclables from the trash, while in Brooklawn residents throw all recyclable goods — newspapers, glass bottles and plastic — into one can in what's known as a "single-stream" process.

Polifronio said the city would need to pay an outside contractor to separate the paper, plastic and glass, which would undermine any savings to be achieved from the recycling incentive program.

"We'd end up paying and not getting revenue," she said.

Brooklawn residents interviewed about the program generally were enthusiastic, although a few senior citizens appeared bewildered by it.

"I don't know how to get my points," said Shirley Watson, 67, a retiree who said she doesn't have a computer but called RecycleBank to try to get her rewards. She wasn't completely sure it was worth the effort, since she already clips coupons in the Sunday paper.

Jennifer Flynn, 26, a mother of three young children, said the program has become something of a fad among neighbors.

"Everyone's into points now," she said, explaining she uses hers at Babies "R" Us.

Sometimes, to earn a few extra points, when she's watching her children or baby-sitting a friend's child, she'll take them on a walk to pick up recyclable trash, she said.

"It absolutely encourages residents," Flynn said.


Media Contacts

Interested in learning a little more about us? 
We're glad to share our story!

For inquiries:

Please note, if you are not a member of the press, you will not receive a response.

TwitterLatest Tweets



Recyclebank At A Glance

New York

New York, Philadelphia and Houston

Javier Flaim


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

4 Million+

300+ in all 50 states

Reward Partners

In The NewsRSS Press ReleaseRSS