Let's Make a Deal

PHILADELPHIA IS LAUNCHING a recycling pilot program that it hopes will appeal to people's love of a good deal. Under the program, residents in the city's Northwest area who recycle certain amounts will receive retail and restaurant coupons. The more people recycle, the more coupons they will receive.

The program, which covers about 6,000 households, is scheduled to begin in early February and will run through the end of June. If the city deems the effort a success in boosting residential curbside recycling, the program could be permanently installed and expanded to other parts of the city, says David Robinson, Philadelphia's recycling coordinator.

For years, city officials have tried to find a way to make people recycle more. Philadelphia currently has a residential recycling rate of only about 6 percent, Robinson says. Nearly three years ago, the city began issuing fines to residents who weren't recycling after focus groups indicated that was the most effective way to motivate Philadelphians. However, the effort was soon abandoned after the city decided it needed its enforcement officials to work on health and safety issues instead, Robinson says.

Robinson says he has long toyed with the idea of implementing a recycling program based on financial incentives, which the focus groups had ranked as the second-most effective way to spur on recycling. When RecycleBank, a Blue Bell, Pa.-based company, approached him about such a program a year ago, the parties began creating the pilot.

RecycleBank has provided 36-gallon recycling containers for each household in the project. When the recyclables are picked up each week, municipal trucks will weigh the containers, and radio frequency identification tags placed on the containers will allow the city to tabulate how much a household has recycled.

Each household will have a RecycleBank account in which it will accumulate credit based on the amount of materials recycled. The household can then redeem the credit for coupons. Households can earn $5 worth of coupons for every 10 pounds recycled, with a $25 monthly limit on coupons. Approximately 30 retailers, including Starbucks, IKEA and numerous locally owned stores, are participants.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia is conducting a single-stream recycling pilot project with the same Northwest area residents. In early October, the city began collecting recyclables in the area in large compactor trucks in which all of the materials are placed together. Normally, the recyclables are placed in smaller vehicles that have one compartment for newsprint and paper fibers and another for glass, tin, steel and aluminum containers. The project allows households to recycle plastic containers and corrugated boxes as well.