RecycleBank on CNN

Just saw an interesting short news story on RecycleBank, which I hadn’t heard of before.  They motivate people to recycle by offering incentives from big corporate partners like Coke and Kraft.  Cities pay RecycleBank with money saved from landfill overuse fees, and the founder claims that most cities that implement the program have seen increases in recycling of over 100%.

A very interesting model for social entrepreneurship, and definitely seems to be scalable.  Seems that they’re currently located primarily in the northeastern US, but I’m guessing that the CNN story will help them scale out more quickly.  I’m very curious as to whether the customers (actually, I guess they should be called “end users,” as the customers paying for the service are the cities) have found the rewards program to be actually valuable.

I’m also really curious as to how the revenue works and the costs of the scanning equipment being retrofitted to the trucks (particularly upkeep/repair costs), but I’m sure that those things are trade secrets that won’t be revealed anytime soon.  Very interesting model, though, and the type of thing that I’d love to write a case study for!

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2 responses to “RecycleBank on CNN

  1. The cities are saving millions of dollars in landfill tipping fees, making money in selling the recyclables and the rewards vary from free products/gift cards to steep discounts on everyday purchases.

  2. Hi recycler, thanks for your comment! Do you happen to work at RecycleBank, or are you a customer/end user in one of the cities where they operate?

    I understand the basic premise regarding savings from landfill overuse fees (although I didn’t realize that it was in the millions – scary when tipping fees are only $10-$40 per ton according to http://science.howstuffworks.com/landfill8.htm). That’s at least 25,000 TONS of waste per million dollars!

    I had guessed that the rewards program varied by city, and was somewhat similar to credit card rewards programs, which often sound really great at first, until I look at what I can get and find out that it’s coupons for stuff I wouldn’t want in the first place. However, some rewards programs are great, and if the discounts are everyday purchases like gas and groceries, then that sounds like a great incentive for the end user!

    Really, what I wonder about the most is how the deal with the city is structured. Does the city pay for the scanning equipment to be retrofitted upfront in a lump sum? Who is responsible for repairing broken equipment? Does a city need to produce a certain amount of waste in order for the program to become economically viable? Are challenges to scaling out based on organizational infrastructure (staffing), the inertia of local governments, identifying corporate partners for rewards programs, or high upfront costs for starting the program in a new city (cashflow issues)?

    I don’t expect you to answer these, and I really appreciate your further explanation of the program. I’ve just been thinking a lot about scaling social innovations, and this is a fascinating model for me that leaves me filled with questions!

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