Human Journey

Turning Trash into Treasure

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By Wendy Gordon

What if you could be rewarded for recycling? Just think about it: a frequent-flyer program for recyclers. Put your recyclablest in an electronically tagged bin for pickup by a truck, which weighs how much you are recycling–and transmits the data to a web site. By the time you’ve reentered your home, you can retrieve the points online and redeem them for discounts at stores like CVS and PETCO, or on brands like Stonyfield Farms, Sun & Earth and Green Mountain Coffee.

That’s the simple idea behind RecycleBank, the brainchild of two high-school science-lab partners and one of the “hottest plays” among venture-capital firms. In a word, or four, by “turning garbage to gold,” RecycleBank has changed the economics of recycling. In cities and towns where it’s operating, like Wilmington, Delaware, recycling rates have jumped tenfold, from 3 percent to 32 percent.

The program has many winners, including the recycler, who stands to get as much as $45 a month in redeemable points. With all the belt-tightening that is happening right now, that could translate into a lot of free yogurt, pet food or personal-care supplies. The cities and towns that participate stand to benefit too. There are considerable savings when municipalities divert trash from the dump to facilities that sort, crush and ship it out for reuse. Since RecycleBank arrived in Everett, Massachusetts, 11 tons of trash have been diverted from landfills every day. Everett has saved $300,000, which -has been split with RecycleBank.

RecycleBank is expanding rapidly. Currently operating in 13 states, they expect to be serving a million households by the end of 2009, and are planning for ten million households within the next five years. If you are interested in bringing the RecycleBank to your community, sign up online and they will contact you. RecycleBank will work with your hauler or municipality to develop the program locally. You can help the process by contacting your hauler or city council and explaining why the program is worthwhile. And get your friends and neighbors to do the same. If you have more questions about the program, you can also call them at 888-727-2978.

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Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

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