Did you know that you can make some green by going green?
While recycling, saving energy and other kinds of eco-friendly actions are good habits on their own, a growing number of organizations are offering economic incentives to those who opt for greener ways to live their lives.
"I think basically anything that helps increase recycling is a good thing," said Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The incentives certainly work."
From organizations that pay money for certain kinds of recyclable items to reward programs that give points that can be redeemed in grocery stores or pharmacies, she said incentive-based programs are shifting the thinking on recycling and leading to results.
"All of those things seem to capture the interest of the public and get them interested a little more than just the bins do," she said.
Here are five programs you might want to check out:
In more than 300 communities in 26 states, RecycleBank rewards recyclers by the pound.
A microchip attached to recycling bins tracks how much each household recycles. Those pounds of recycled material translate into points that can be redeemed at a variety of retail partners, including Bed, Bath & Beyond and CVS pharmacies.
"The idea is that while we all would love to recycle, and many people do, a lot of people need to be incentive to do it," said Melody Serafino, a spokeswoman for RecycleBank. "In this economy, offering people valuable rewards for doing something good and green is really beneficial."
She said each pound of recycled material equals 2.5 points and the average household accumulates about $400 worth of points in one year.
RecycleBank already partners with Chicago, Phoenix, Houston and Hartford and will launch a pilot program with Los Angeles later this month. The service has already diverted 208,317 tons from the waste stream and saved 5.1 million trees, Serafino said.
About 65,000 locations across the country are working with TerraCycle to turn non-recyclable waste into useful products, while earning money in the process.
The site collects a wide range of waste – from chip bags to empty glue containers to juice packs– and then uses those raw materials to create backpacks, cork boards, decorations and more.
Those products are sold in a variety of U.S. retailers, but for the month of April (Earth Month), Walmart has agreed to sell 60 products in stores across the country.
Although the service is open to anyone, all donations must end up in the hands of school or nonprofit. Those who contribute receive 2 cents for every item they submit. The payoff may sound small, but it adds up.
Since the beginning of 2009, the site has donated more than $500,000 to charities, said Albe Zake, vice president of media relations for TerraCycle.
"One of our goals is to make going green really easy and fun and profitable, so that people will want to do it," Zake said.
Recycle Electronics for Cash
Is an old iPod or computer gathering dust in a closet? Are you hoping to retire a cell phone?
According to the EPA, more than 40 million computers alone became obsolete in 2007, and the numbers keep rising. But electronics recycling services make it easy to help keep those numbers down.
YouRenew, for example, covers the cost of shipping your electronics, and, depending on the condition of the item, will send you a check that could be upwards of $100.
If you want an incentive to save energy and water at home, take a look at EarthAid.
The Washington-based service uses software to track your electricity, natural gas and water consumption. After it determines a baseline for you (using past consumption), the service awards points for each kilowatt-hour of electricity, ten cubic feet of natural gas or 20 gallons of water saved relative to that baseline.
Those points can be redeemed at local businesses across the country. (The service is free of charge, but EarthAid says it must track your consumption for a year (to establish a baseline) before it can start awarding points.)
Greenopolis gives green-leaning consumers a range of ways to earn rewards for recycling.
The interactive Web site lets anyone contribute blog posts and ideas to the site for points that can be redeemed at local restaurants and entertainment venues.
But it also has an "on-street" element to complement the online piece.
Through its GreenOps program, people can take beverage containers to select Whole Foods stores to earn Greenopolis points or coupons that can be redeemed at some WholeFoods locations.
About 68 Whole Foods across the country currently host GreenOps kiosks, but in the next six months, the company said hundreds of kiosks are expected to launch in Whole Foods and other locations nationwide.
"Putting stuff curbside is great -- it's fantastic. We think it's got to be a huge part of the solution," said Paul Ligon, managing director of GreenOps. But about 40 percent of the U.S. population doesn't have access to curbside recycling, he said.
For those communities – and the rest of us who could benefit from more on-the-go recycling options – he said Greenopolis provides another approach.
"It's an open platform for consumers, producers and any others interested in moving the dial on recycling," said Ligon.