Cash for Trash

In Waukesha County, Wis., 18 lucky residents have discovered the benefits that can come from a little concern for the environment. Thanks to an idea from county recycling specialist Linda Wainstock, the homeowners have found that recycling pays — literally. The county's Recycling Rewards program offers a $100 cash reward to residents with full recycling bins.

“What we've seen in the last couple of years is flat recycling percentages,” says Karen Fiedler, Waukesha County's solid waste supervisor. “This Recycling Rewards program is part of an entire strategy to increase the amount of recyclables coming into our [materials recycling] facility.”

In 2004, Waukesha County had a recycling rate of 21 percent and recycled nearly 24,000 tons of paper and containers. “We felt that [recycling] was getting kind of a negative connotation and people were getting turned off, so part of Linda's idea was [the Recycling Rewards] program, which I think was a good one,” Fiedler says. “Let's create a positive approach here. We do want people to recycle.”

To spark the community's interest in recycling, Wainstock implemented the Recycling Rewards program in fall 2004, awarding $100 to homeowners with a large amount and a wide variety of recyclable materials in their curbside bins. Twice a year — in conjunction with America Recycles Day in the fall and Earth Day in the spring — county officials randomly choose six of the county's municipalities by drawing the names out of an envelope. They then pick a neighborhood in each of the communities by throwing a dart at a map. Next, they head off to the targeted neighborhoods to sift through curbside bins and pick the winners.

“We do go out, and we actually look through the bins,” Wainstock says. “It doesn't have to be overflowing or anything, but it has to have a pretty good amount [of recyclable materials] in it.”

The winners are usually notified by mail and attend an open house at the recycling facility or a ceremony at a county board meeting to receive their prize, which is funded by Charlotte, N.C.-based FCR Inc., Milwaukee-based Onyx Waste Services, Houston-based Waste Management and Whitewater, Wis.-based Johns Disposal Service Inc.

Although the program went virtually unnoticed during its first year, county officials say residents are beginning to pay attention. “The winners obviously were delighted,” Fiedler says. “So, they're telling their friends and neighbors how they won the $100, so that's partly how the word is getting out.”