Sunday, December 19, 2010

Recycle Bank has so much potential

This year single stream recycling was introduced in Ann Arbor. I believe the single stream does make recycling easier, my husband loves that he does not have to divide up the recycling into separate containers. Ask the drivers and they say it is a mess back at the MURF or at least it was a lot cleaner when separated. I'm neither for or against, it is just a change. If this increases recycling and removes greater volume from the landfills, excellent.

The same time single stream came in so did the recycling bank. I was asked if I knew about it. This was my response,

Yes, I have heard of the RecycleBank, we have it in Ann Arbor, and I have some issues with it. While it does encourage more household recycling and seems to make a difference in numbers of recycling materials collected it also encourages buying more stuff with little consideration to the end of life of the new stuff. It also relies on local vendors to provide all the incentives, which some of them seem to like but in my neighborhood case, if we all don’t spend our points and reach the level that we can earn enough points to get a big screen TV, I’m not sure how the vendor could handle that demand. You can also contribute to charities if you don't want to get stuff with your points.

I don’t like the approach Ann Arbor is taking because they don’t weigh each bin collected. Ann Arbor takes the number of bins lifted for recycling and divides the total weight evenly among the registered users in that neighborhood and distributes points evenly. It is known among the drivers that people are putting out the recycling bin with nothing in it, just so it registers and they can get free stuff.

I would be ecstatic if the recycle bank : 
  1. The bins were randomly monitored to be sure people are not tossing in landfill items and removed from the program if they are unless they want to attend an educational session. Two strikes and are removed for a determined amount of time.
  2. The prizes were limited to:
    • Local social charitable gifts.
    • High post consumer recycle content items.
    • Minimally packaged grocery items.
    • Car share memberships or trips.
    • Bus passes and bicycles.
    • Farmers market coupons.
    • Local vendor services such as legal advice, tax assistance, teeth cleaning, eye doctor…
    • YMCA or community athletic club memberships.
    • Inhouse coffee or foods only – no take out or delivery.
    • No tv’s or single use disposables or unnecessary packaging in goods such as CD’s.
  3. Rewarded each home by the weight/volume of the actual recycling vs the weight/volume of their trash. Lots of recyclables in the trash get deducted.
  4. Zero waste should be the focus and the educational emphasis  – reduced recycling and no or almost no landfillable items. People are instead being rewarded for enhanced recycling and to keep growing the recycling weight annually they will need to buy more.
Because recycling is big business I doubt any of this will happen in Michigan but without purchasing of post consumer recyclable goods being emphasized to close the loop what is the point?

My two cents.

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