Rewarding Households for Saving the Planet Rewarding Households for Saving the Planet
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Rewarding Households for Saving the Planet

by Christopher Mims

July 20, 2009
An incentive-based system to increase recycling rates in your community.According to behavioral psychologists, people will do all kinds of things for a reward, even a small one. That key insight enabled RecycleBank to convince hundreds of thousands of households to recycle more of their trash in exchange for ReycleBank Points, which can be redeemed for discounts with hundreds of vendors, for everything from groceries to sporting goods. A chip embedded in a home's recycling crate allows RecycleBank to track exactly how much each household contributes.The system works so well that RecycleBank doubles to quintuples recycling rates, says CEO Ron Gonen, who founded the startup in 2004 in New York City. Philadelphia served as a pilot city, and today the company operates in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Vermont, and Massachusetts. By 2013, Gonen plans to have RecycleBank in 10 million households across the United States, Canada, and Europe.RecycleBank doesn't only benefit consumers, but municipalities, as well. It's becoming increasingly expensive for cities to dump our trash in landfills. Every pound of waste RecycleBank diverts from the landfill saves local governments a few cents-and the company takes a cut.RecycleBank has also succeeded in getting past the tendency of green projects to remain a hobby for those who can afford it: The program has been as successful in low-income neighborhoods as affluent ones. "People in low-income neighborhoods don't have the [same] opportunity to participate in the environmental space," notes Gonen, "but we've given them something that's tangible and impactful."Which is another way of saying that anyone could use a dollar off a pair of Jockey shorts-or at least a way to quantify their impact on the earth. As for RecycleBank itself, the company estimates its programs have saved nearly 2 million trees and more than 100 million gallons of oil.Photo courtesy of RecycleBankReturn to interactive site
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Rewarding Households for Saving the Planet