Recycling for points: Does Recyclebank really work?

| October 14, 2013

In a perfect world, we would all recycle simply because it’s the moral, environmentally friendly thing to do. In the real world, some people need a bit more motivation. That explains the recent uptick in programs designed to incentivize people to recycle. In this post, we’ll take a look at this new trend, as discussed in a recent Forbes article by Heather Clancy.


Do incentive programs really lead to more recycling? From John Lambert Pearson.

Clancy’s discussion centers on Recyclebank, an online-based program where users can register, participate in approved “green” activities (such as recycling at home and taking interactive quizzes), and earn points towards rewards. Recyclebank partners with businesses to provide these rewards, which can include anything from grocery discounts to magazine subscriptions.

It’s akin to racking up frequent flyer miles, but with a much friendlier carbon footprint than riding in an airplane. (Ironically, though, “travel and tourism” is one of the reward areas cited on

Recyclebank has been around since 2004. It is headquartered in New York and has additional offices in London, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Recyclebank currently boasts more than 4.5 million members who have contributed to nearly 4 million pounds of recycled goods.

According to the Recyclebank website, these aren’t simply self-reported recycling rates — these are real, quantifiable numbers. Take, for example, the “Home recycling” method of earning points: “Recyclebank partners with communities and waste haulers around the country to reward residents like you for recycling. We work with communities to find out how much recyclable material was collected. The collective weight is then converted to Recyclebank points and shared amongst all of the residents in the community that recycled.”

So does it work? Yes, if you ask Bridgeport, Connecticut Mayor Bill Finch. Mayor Finch reported that the partnership with Recyclebank (in addition to the adoption of a single-sort recycling program) led to a 67 percent uptick in the city’s recycling rate in August of this year compared to the previous two-year period.

Bridgeport is saving money by avoiding fees associated with hauling excess waste away to landfills — plus they earn money per ton of materials collected for recycling.

“This is a profound swing,” said Finch, as reported by Clancy. “People in the community feel good, the finances are evident, and the environmental impact is that recycling helps eliminate new materials extraction.”


In exchange for recycling magazines (and other items) your Recyclebank points could get you a new magazine subscription! From Ian MacKenzie.

With communities like Bridgeport leading the way — and coverage as high profile as a Forbes article — Recyclebank and similar incentive programs are likely to continue gaining traction. Right now, Recyclebank’s partner communities number over 300, with all 50 states represented.

Big Business is already on board with the approach. Coca-Cola is one of Recyclebank’s major backers, along with Waste Management and several other heavy hitters.

While you’d hate to think of any pro-recycling initiative as having “competitors” (since it should be “the more, the merrier” when it comes to recycling, right?) Recyclebank is not the only program of its kind. RecyclePerks and other smaller programs offer similar models, though Recyclebank is a clear frontrunner in terms of impact and participation rates.

Many cities have attempted their own recycling incentive programs, though not always with ideal outcomes. Cincinnati officials implemented an incentive program in the last year, but only 20,000 of the eligible 83,000 households signed up — and few of those who signed up ever bothered to gather their “points.”

Instead of giving up, Cincinnati officials are revamping the program and trying again. It seems that perhaps the program’s design makes all the difference — in which case Cincinnati and other municipalities would be wise to pay attention to Recyclebank’s proven model.

Looking to increase recycling rates in your community? Check out Recyclebank to learn more about one option, and don’t forget that education and spreading awareness is the first step.

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Category: Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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