Page last updated at 14:02 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 15:02 UK

RecycleBank - making waste pay

By Victoria Bone
BBC News

RecycleBank collection (pic: RecycleBank)
Trucks weigh recycled material and award points to each household

The Conservatives are keen to encourage us all to recycle more of our waste by offering us a financial carrot.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne has been talking to an American company called RecycleBank which has proven the idea can be a success.

Set up in Philadelphia in 2004, RecycleBank has gone from working in just a few streets to having more than 150,000 customers in nine states. A million more are signed up and waiting to get started.

The premise is simple.

Households earn vouchers for every pound of waste they recycle. These can be redeemed at a wide range of shops, on everything from groceries to trainers.

On average, the Tories say these rewards can amount to about $50 (25) a month.

Municipal authorities also benefit because they have to pay less for landfill, while recycling companies make more money from processing and retailers improve their environmental credentials.

Finally, RecycleBank itself takes a share of the money cities save in landfill tax as profit.

Electronic chip

The process is very simple. Householders place all recyclable goods in one wheelie bin - or "smart cart" - which is left out for weekly kerbside collection.

Each wheelie bin has an electronic identification chip which is read by the pick-up truck. It records the weight of recyclables each household has produced.

The system then converts that weight into points - 2.5 points for every pound of material - and credits those to the household's account. It is these points that mean prizes.

We want people to recognise that 'eco' is not just a part of 'ecology', but also 'economy'
Ron Gonen
Co-founder of RecycleBank

Some neighbourhoods even enter into the scheme communally. This means individual households earn reward points based on their share of the total amount that their entire community recycles.

RecycleBank uses what is called "single stream recycling", meaning that households don't have to sort their materials into metal, plastic, glass and paper.

Everything goes into one bin and the recycling centre separates it all out later.

RecycleBank produces a monthly newsletter - the Village Green - that keeps customers informed, for example, of new stores joining the reward scheme.

Poorer households

The company operates in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Virginia and Vermont.

One of its most committed cities is Wilmington, Delaware, where about 90% of residents are signed up.

There the amount of waste ending up in the local landfill has fallen by about 40%, saving the city about $800,000 a year.

Co-founder of RecycleBank Ron Gonen told the BBC News website: "We want to become the complete environmental provider for a municipality, so as well as homes, that's schools, universities, businesses, and so on.

"I definitely think it will work in the UK, especially because landfill costs are even higher than in the States."

RecycleBank's latest target is college campuses. Starting with a pilot at New York City's Columbia University, it has put special kiosks in cafeterias and halls of residence.

People get on board right away, they're excited by it and it's simple
Ron Gonen

Each student gets a RecycleBank card and takes their recycling to the closest kiosk, where they swipe their card, weigh their waste and claim their points.

Mr Osborne is also particularly keen on the success a financial incentive has had in encouraging the poorest households who would otherwise be the least likely to recycle.

"People get on board right away, they're excited by it and it's simple," Mr Gonen said. "And that's true of every area - urban, suburban, upper income, lower income.

"The only difference is how people spend their rewards. Lower income homes tend to use them in the supermarket for staple goods. Higher incomes tend to spend them at, say, the local coffee house.

"We want people to recognise that 'eco' is not just a part of 'ecology', but also 'economy'. Something can be good for the environment and good for your wallet."

Tories unveil recycling pay plans
09 Jul 08 |  UK Politics
Microchip bins project rubbished
16 Jun 08 |  Norfolk
Green movement forgets its politics
06 May 08 |  Science/Nature
Residents cross border to recycle
20 Apr 08 |  Gloucestershire
New York tackles 'rubbish thieves'
12 Oct 07 |  Americas

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific