Cash for Trash Spurs Recycling Boom

Massachusetts town goes 'green' to get green and residents are eager to join.

Nov. 18, 2008— -- When was the last time you got paid to take out the trash?

Residents of Everett, Mass., are finding the chore more rewarding as they cash in their recyclables for store coupons.

"I've already cashed in some of the points because I am a big Dunkin' Donuts coffee fan," Everett resident Susan Marino told ABC's Bob Woodruff. "And the kids like Panera [Bread restaurants], so they've used the Panera gift card already."

Watch Bob Woodruff's "Spirit of America" report tonight on "World News With Charles Gibson" at 6:30 ET.

For years, Everett city officials tried in vain to increase recycling. They considered and discarded pay-as-you-go trash collection.

But when Everett sweetened the deal this summer with coupons and gift certificates as incentives, the amount of recycled material increased tenfold.

At her curbside, Everett resident Dawn Colameta said, "A lot more people are recycling now because they get something for it."

Click here to learn more about 'cash for trash' recycling programs.

Before the cash-for-trash initiative, recycling coordinator Jon Norton said recycling participation was pitiful. Now, he couldn't be happier. "There are carts all over the city, up and down every street," he said.

Joe Barressi, crew supervisor for hauler Capitol Waste, has also noticed the difference on his Everett recycling route. "On an average day here, I picked up 3 tons," he said. "We're bringing in anywhere between 10 and 13 tons now."

The city of Everett gets rewarded, too, by saving an estimated $150,000 this year in trash disposal costs. "We are saving the city money by avoiding sending trash full of recycling to an incinerator," Norton said. "We are saving a great deal of money."

One Man's Trash Is That Man's Reward

Everett's program was pioneered by RecycleBank, a 4-year-old private company that makes money by charging cities for its services and by marketing on its Web site.

The company's concept is simple -- make recycling financially rewarding and easy.

Single-stream recycling, a requirement for participation in the RecycleBank program, allows residents to dump glass, paper, plastic and cans all in one large, 96-gallon recycling bin.

On trash day, residents bring the bin to the curb. Garbage trucks retrofitted with scales and sensors weigh the recycling bin, identify the address by the bin's electronic tag and add the weight to the household's point tally.

And just in case anyone tries to tip the scales unfairly -- say by throwing cinder blocks in the recycling bin -- the truck has a big red reject button.

"If something doesn't belong inside the bin at all, we hit the red button, it rejects the load and they get no points at all for it," Capitol Waste worker Joao Boga said.

Residents redeem their points as discounts and rebates at dozens of local and national retailers, up to $45 a month. Businesses donate the coupons to encourage sales.

Residents can log on to RecycleBank's Web site to see a running total of both financial and environmental rewards. "I have saved almost a whole tree and I've saved 64 gallons of oil," Colameta said.

90 Cities and Counting

So far, RecycleBank is operating in 90 communities in 13 states.

Since Cherry Hill, N.J., launched the RecycleBank program in June, its recycling rate has doubled from 11 pounds per home per week to 22 pounds.

Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt rated the program a success, saying the "incentive-based, single-stream system is a brilliant change to the overall recycling process."

The township's coffers have also increased because of revenue from the recyclable material and from reduced trash-removal fees. The expected savings are a green $300,000 to $400,000 this year.

Recycling participation is now up to 85 percent in Wilmington, Del., since the city partnered with RecycleBank in 2006.

Before the program, 2 percent of Wilmington's total waste was recycled. Now, 34 percent is recycled. Still, the city has not yet saved enough to pay for the $2 per home it pays RecycleBank. City officials hope to break even when 50 percent of waste is recycled.

Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker says the rewards program "provides our citizens with another reason to recycle beyond the already rewarding environmental reason."

Anthony Casali, New England regional manager for RecycleBank, said, "Everybody who touched the program, it's a win-win situation for them, whether it's the local economy, whether it's the household, whether it's the particular trash company and, of course, the city itself."

Cash for Recycling Web sites: -- cash for trash -- cash for cell phones -- cash for electronics