Are Dream Machines the Answer to America's Recycling Woes?

recycling bins photo

Photo credit: timtak/Creative Commons

As the head of a company focused on reducing waste, I spend a lot of time finding new ways to do it. While we've had increasing success getting people to send us their waste to put to work in new products, the overall rate of recycling in the US, how do I say it? Sucks.

With 40 years of efforts to increase recycling, from the 70s where you had to bring everything to a recycling center, to the curbside blue bin making even the laziest of us able to easily do our part, we're now barely pushing 30% recyclable waste recovery as a country. What's it going to take?RecycleBank seems to be getting traction, with more than two million people signed up for a program where your curbside waste gets weighed, credits awarded, redeemable for local goods. It's a step forward, as it goes beyond relying on people's self motivation to help the greater good, and adds a direct incentive to recycle more, resulting in something tangible. Especially in this tough economy, people appreciate getting deals and even better, something for free.

Now comes a new contender in a shiny polished package that I'll be interested to see how well it works: Greenopolis.

Greenopolis is in a way a hybrid of that 70s model of recycling with the data rich, customizing model of business many take these days: You bring your recyclables to their "Dream Machine" kiosks, and scan each item, one at a time. In return you get points, which are redeemable for things like discounted movie tickets, pizza, travel, and interestingly, helping post 9/11 disabled veterans. Perhaps taking a cue from TerraCycle, they're amplifying the impact and quantity recycled by engaging in schools, listing which school has collected the most. Nothing like competition to boost motivation!

Like supermarket reward cards, the data on what you scanned into the recycler is likely used to garner localized insights on what people are buying, and I'm guessing make Greenopolis users offers based on these.

To some, giving away their private information and purchase habits to companies is no biggie. It's become the norm. But I have to wonder, what's your take? Do you think it's wrong for companies to use your personal information for marketing aims? My guess is most people would appreciate having offers that are better suited to them made.

And as recycling has become increasingly commoditized by the big players in China, finding ways to both increase the quality of what's brought in and monetize in ways not dependent on the recycling market sounds like a wise path to go down.

Readers: What do you think it will take to substantially increase recycling in the US? What can we learn from other countries? What's your opinion about the Greenopolis model?
Read more about recycling:
How to Go Green: Recycling
4 Ways to Earn Cash From Recycling
Recycling Bins From Around the World (Slideshow)

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