Is Cash the Only Way to Motivate Responsible Behavior?

upcycling croce elementary school photo

Student brigades collect hard-to-recycle trash for TerraCycle. Photo credit: TerraCycle

2010 may have been a rocky year in many ways for a lot of us out there, but something amazing happened in the last three months of the year: Public schools in New Jersey on average doubled how much waste packaging they collected and sent to TerraCycle! What was the catalyst, you say? A surplus of Halloween candy wrappers perhaps? All the packaging from holiday parties and gifts? Nice guesses, but no.

It was cash.Walmart Foundation sponsored a contest with us called Trash To Cash that rewarded the top 6 collecting Brigades at New Jersey public schools with grants between $5000-$50,000 dollars, a total of $125,000. The numbers were astounding: The lowest of those winners sent us 22,921 pieces of packaging! The highest clocked in at 52,640. This, for 2 months of collections. Mind boggling, how much trash they helped divert from the landfill.

On many levels, the program was a great success. Not only was a large amount of trash diverted, it nearly doubled earlier figures. Not only is there money going to benefit public schools that can surely use it, engagement has increased among the Brigades. Perhaps most significantly, there is new incentive for schools to jump onto the Brigade train, further increasing both the amount and the locations that difficult to recycle packaging is being prevented from ending in a landfill. Hopefully, the momentum created by the Trash To Cash contest continues on long afterwords.

Still, toubling questions remain. What does it say about our society if it takes money to motivate the average person to such levels of behavior? Why did a noisy compostable bag motivate people to protest loudly, forcing Sunchips to roll back to non-recyclable, non-compostable packaging, for all but one of its products?

With changing climate, ecomonic shifts, and dwindling resources, there will need to be some major changes in people's lifestyles. Will they be willing or capable? Is money going to have to be the motivator?

Readers, I'd like to hear from you. Is money the answer to a rapid, durable increase in eco friendly behavior? Have you seen it working elsewhere? And if not, what other paths to change have you seen out there that are working? Got a new, as yet to be done idea to share? Let's hear it!
Read more about upcycling:
Upcycle Leftover Valentine's Day Candy Wrappers and Donate to Charity at the Same Time
Upcycle Art -- DIY Re-manufacturing
Eco-art to Save the Surf

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