It Pays to Recycle in Chicago: RecycleBank Reaches Illinois

RecycleBank rewards program image

Image credit: RecycleBank

Since its beginnings as a pilot recycling project in Philadelphia, RecycleBank has been growing rapidly. The idea is simple - instead of mandating recycling, or charging people for throwing out trash, RecycleBank offers rewards for what and how much you recycle. Having set up recycling rewards programs in Philadelphia, Delaware and New Jersey, and even taking the RecycleBank incentive program to Europe - the company is now partnering with the City of Chicago. Avid recyclers can even win White Sox tickets if they activate their account early!
Starting in wards 5, 8 and 19, recycling bins will be retrofitted with an ID tag that will be scanned each time a pick up is made - with credits appearing on the household's RecycleBank account depending on how much they recycle. Points can redeemed for rewards, gift cards, groceries, and products at more than 1,900 local and national RecycleBank Reward Partners, including Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods,, Ruby Tuesday’s and CVS/pharmacy, as well as local participating Chicago businesses, such as Leona’s, Moo and Oink, ‘city sponsor’ Carson Pirie Scott, County Fair, Treasure Island, the Chicago White Sox and the Children’s Museum. RecycleBank Points can also be donated to local school environmental programs, charities and non-profits. If that weren't incentive enough, the White Sox are giving away 2 free tickets to the first two hundred households to activate their RecycleBank rewards account - which should prove a popular incentive in the windy city.

In many ways this makes sense. Having lived in Denmark where every single bottle or beer, soda or whatever was redeemable for a deposit - I've seen how financial incentives can motivate recycling. Of course the deep greenie in me worries that folks are still getting rewarded for the amount of trash they produce - even if that trash is recycled - and those rewards are redeemable for more consumer goods which will in turn generate more trash. But sometimes I have to tell the deep greenie in me to shut up. As with most things, this program is not the answer in and of itself, but it is a step in the right direction. The more we can get our markets and social structures to reward and encourage more sustainable behaviors, the sooner we'll get to where we need to go.

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