A Conservation and Pollution Mitigation Firm: Recyclebank
To be cost effective for municipalities, recycling must occur on a large enough scale to yield savings at the landfill.
RecycleBank, which operates in 18 states and 100 cities and towns, encourages recycling while helping consumers and local governments save money.1 The company collects recyclable materials in bins equipped with computer chips that record the amount recycled and send the information to the RecycleBank's Web site, where it is converted into points for the bin owner's account. The customer can log into the account and convert points to coupons for stores such as Target and brands such as Kraft.
As a result of these incentives, areas that use the program have seen recycling increase by 50 percent or more along with significant savings at the landfill, which often charge per ton.2 Wilmington, Delaware, for instance, cut its $2.1 million annual waste removal tab by 40 percent.3
RecycleBank's roughly 105 employees include operations managers, technology specialists, marketing professionals and salespeople. The staff does not include truck drivers, garbage collectors or recycling plant workers because the company tries to help existing recycling operations stay in business. Once a deal is signed, RecycleBank retrofits existing trucks with mechanical arms that read the chips in the new bins. Upfront costs are paid by RecycleBank in return for an agreement to share the long-term savings with the city.4
Some communities are not traditionally recyclers— especially low-income areas where it is not easy for individuals without the means to invest in solar panels, electric cars and the like. But RecycleBank CEO Ron Gonen said the company has done well in these neighborhoods. "We've been able to come in on a mass scale and say we're going to help you become part of this environmental movement today, and we're going to reward you for it," Gonen said. "If you give people the opportunity, they're going to take advantage of it."5
1 Pew e-mail exchange with Melody Serafino, spokesperson for RecycleBank, April 21, 2009.
2 Pew interview with Ron Gonen, co-founder and CEO of RecycleBank, April 7, 2009; presentation by John Doerr, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, "Seeking Salvation and Profit in Green Tech," March 2007, http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/john_doerr_sees_salvation_and_profit_in_greentech.html (accessed April 15, 2009).
3 Celeste LeCompte, "Down in the Dumps," Sustainable Industries, March 30, 2009, http://www.sustainableindustries.com/recycledmarkets/42019787.html (accessed April 28, 2009).
4 Pew interview with Gonen, April 7, 2009.