5 Programs for Improving Local Waste Recycling

The right recycling program can raise your city’s profile as a green place to live, and indirectly influence home values and community wealth by saving tax dollars, reducing the need for landfills, avoiding pollution, and creating jobs.

Want to improve recycling options in your community? Push to get one of these five novel recycling programs going in your area.

Want to improve recycling options in your community? Push to get one of these five novel recycling programs going in your area.

1. Recycling rewards

RecycleBank partners with cities, haulers, and merchants to reward consumers for recycling. The program, which is free to residents but costs money for municipalities to set up, gives residents a bar-coded recycling bin. The hauler weighs and scans your recycling bin during pick-up. You earn points for each pound you recycle, and redeem points for discounts at local stores.

The company says recycling rewards average $15 to $20 per month at local grocery stores, or run higher for other purchases (such as 10% off jewelry or electronics). In Ivyland, Pa., average monthly recycling under RecycleBank grew to 34 pounds from 17 pounds per household.

The downside: While about 250 cities have the program, in a tight economy, your local leaders may hesitate to pay upfront costs to set up recycling rewards. Philadelphia used a federal grant to launch its RecycleBank program.

2. Pay as You Throw

To spur recycling, some cities offer Pay as You Throw garbage billing, where you pay for garbage by weight rather than by flat fee. If you recycle and compost more and throw less into garbage, you pay less for garbage service.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Pay as You Throw saved San Jose, Calif., $4 million annually. A Duke University study found Pay as You Throw increases recycling participation by 32% to 59%, depending on a city’s recycling levels at launch.

The downside: Illegal dumping rose in some cities using these programs, so encourage your local officials to set new (or higher) dumping penalties if they go for Pay as You Throw.

3. Single-stream recycling

Who has time to sort the trash? If you can throw everything into one recycling bin—cans, paper, bottles, and some plastics—recycling is easier. When recycling is easier, more people do it. Called single-stream recycling, it increased recycling in Madison, Wis., 25% the year it was implemented, and the city’s net recycling cost per household dropped by about $1.

The downside: It costs municipalities money to adjust existing recycling infrastructure and to add city staff to sort recycled items. The upfront costs may be recouped if residents recycle more.

4. Green the trash collection process

You can jump on two green trends (solar and recycling) at once by talking your town into buying BigBelly solar-powered trash compactors. BigBelly uses solar-powered wireless technology to tell the city when the compactor is full, so the garbage collection truckers don’t drive around emptying half-full cans.

Philadelphia officials estimate the 500 BigBelly cans they’re deploying will lower the city’s garbage collection costs by $850,000 during the first year of use.

The downside: BigBelly products carry a big price tag, so unless your town has a lot of trash, or a lot of trash in one place, a BigBelly may not be cost-effective.

5. Talk up recycling programs

If your local garbage hauler won’t take all of your recycling at the curb, somebody else somewhere else might. Can you talk local officials into publicizing local recycle and reuse programs? Knowing where to take recyclables can save your neighbors money on  dump fees that typically start at $10 (depending on their city and transfer station policies), keep their unwanted items out of landfills, and maybe help them make money off their junk.

GreenDisk charges individuals $6.95 for recycling up to 20 pounds of computer-related waste and serves the continental United States.

Salvage stores like Seattle’s Second Use; Brattleboro, Vt.-based ReNew Salvage; and The Rebuilding Center in Portland, Ore., resell old building materials to folks eager to source historic materials and those who like a bargain. Find one in your area by searching online for “building salvage” and the name of your city.

The downside: City officials may tell you that sharing information about nonprofit or for-profit businesses that pick up where city services leave off is like endorsing them. Argue that mentioning these businesses as resources that are available locally—but not necessarily “city-approved” organizations—is different than endorsing them. You can also spread the word yourself through homeowners association newsletters.

Get a new recycling program started

Once you’ve picked a program, contact the public works department or local elected officials and ask what you need to do to get a new recycling program started where you live.

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These articles are not intended to give legal or tax advice, and you should consult your attorney or financial advisor for additional information.

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