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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, September 29, 2008

Recyclers rewarded for doing good

By Charisse Jones
USA Today

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

RecycleBank allows people to exchange recyclables for vouchers that they can use to buy products at both local and national stores.

RecycleBank photo

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PILOT PROGRAM

How RecycleBank is working for Cherry Hill, Pa.

$400,000

Cost to the town to run the program per year

155 percent

Increase in collected recyclables (from 125 tons to 319 tons)

$2 million

Amount the town expects to save over the next five years

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Like most of his neighbors in Cherry Hill, N.J., Jeffrey Arnowitz already was a dutiful recycler, separating cans and bottles from the scraps that belonged in the regular trash.

Starting last October, when those recyclables began earning credits he could cash in at the grocery store, Arnowitz says doing his part for the environment became even sweeter.

"We actually found ourselves searching for things to go recycle," says Arnowitz, a 33-year-old rabbi and married father of two. "We can buy our kids diapers and formula, things that we really need. ... It's nice to be rewarded for doing good from time to time."

Cherry Hill, other municipalities and dozens of neighborhoods in nine states Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia are participating in a program that awards residents points based on how much they recycle.

Through RecycleBank, a New York-based company that has relationships with more than 400 businesses, residents can accumulate the points and redeem them for vouchers worth up to $400 a year at local businesses and national chain stores such as Ikea and Whole Foods, says Ron Gonen, the company's cofounder.

EMPHASIS ON REUSING

Though Americans recycled 82 million tons of trash in 2006, compared with 69 million in 2000, recycling rates are increasing at a slower rate than during the 1980s and '90s when many states and communities began mandating the practice, says Ed Skernolis, director of policy and programs for the National Recycling Coalition.

"It wasn't (at) the forefront of issues in the American public's eye for a long time," Skernolis says of the slowdown, adding that financially strapped communities also may not have upgraded the trucks and processing equipment necessary for recycling.

Incentive programs such as RecycleBank, however, along with increasing demand for recycled materials and escalating concerns about climate change, can refocus attention on reusing, he says.

"We think those forces are converging to create a positive climate for recycling," Skernolis says. In particular, "we're a big proponent of incentive programs because most have been demonstrated to have a powerful impact on participation rates in communities."

RecycleBank, launched in 2004, is an updated version of programs that make it financially beneficial to recycle. Some communities, for example, charge residents for the trash they throw out but little or nothing for recyclables they discard.

EXPANSION IN THE WORKS

As a result of agreements between RecycleBank and trash haulers or municipalities, more than 130,000 households in the nine states currently participate in the rewards-for-recycling program.

Allied Waste Industries, one of the nation's largest solid waste haulers, also plans to take the program into communities in California, Minnesota and Texas over the next several months, says Dan Jameson, its vice president for government relations and municipal services.

Instead of separating glass from newspaper, homeowners can toss everything into a single bin that contains a radio frequency ID tag bearing their address and account information.

Specially equipped trucks that dump the containers scan the tag and wirelessly transmit the weight of the load to RecycleBank. With an average household generating 80 pounds of recyclables a month, residents can earn up to 5,400 points a year.

Residents can go online to see how many points they've earned. They can also see how many trees and gallons of oil their recycling efforts have saved.

It's that glimpse of her own ecological footprint that makes Lea Arbely more excited about recycling.

"I actually look at that more," says Arbely, 41, an artist who participated in Cherry Hill's pilot effort. The reward points matter less, and she plans to donate them to her daughter's school.

"I think it's something that has to be done no matter what you get for it," she says of recycling.

LANDFILLS LAST LONGER

Cherry Hill, a Philadelphia suburb that is home to 72,000 residents, pays a per-household fee for the program that adds up to roughly $400,000 a year, says mayoral spokesman Dan Keashen.

The cost is offset, however, by the amount of money saved by disposing less garbage in an incinerator or landfill, he says. The amount of recyclables picked up last week after the new recycling program went citywide jumped 155 percent from the same week last year, rising from 125 to 319 tons, Keashen says.

The town also gets a portion of the money earned when the recycled materials are sold on the commodities market. Officials hope to save roughly $2 million over the next five years, Keashen says.

"It's good for the environment," says Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt, who sees the recycling effort as a key part of the city's broader environmental efforts. "On top of that, it saves us money."