While others seem stymied over how to expand recycling and recycling participation rates, a simple financial incentive program developed by RecycleBank LLC continues to expand at a rapid pace.
Since May, RecycleBank has expanded from nine to 18 states, and expects to be in 25 states by the end of the year, said co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Ron Gonen at the Plastics Recycling Conference, held Feb. 24-25 in Orlando.
The company is exploring the expansion of pilot programs it has conducted the past year for apartment buildings and the collection of food-service waste, and in April will launch its first program outside North America, in the United Kingdom, following tests in England.
We have grown dramatically over the last three years, Gonen said of the company started in 2005 in Philadelphia. We have experienced significant growth and want to continue to partner with people involved in plastics recycling.
RecycleBank provides an incentive to recycle, with reward-card points consumers can redeem at local and national retail partners. The amount of material recycled is measured through a radio-frequency identification chip imbedded in 35- to 64-gallon recycling containers. Consumers get 21/2 points for each pound of material recycled, with a monthly maximum of 450 points, or $45.
Gonen said he expects RecycleBank to be in 33 states and more than 1 million households by the end of 2010. The program currently serves more than 60 communities and some 200,000 households a number that Gonen expects to grow to 750,000.
He said he expects to expand the apartment collection program, now in place at one location in New York, and another in Wilmington, Del., to a third location soon. In that program, people get recycling bags with imbedded chips that measure the amount of recycled material when the bags are taken to trash bins that have a kiosk-style measuring station.
RecycleBank also has a pilot program for collection of food-service materials and plastic bottles with kiosks around the campus of Columbia University in New York.
This is a great economic opportunity that goes well beyond recycling, Gonen said. It costs cities money to truck waste to a landfill, and this program reduces that waste and passes value back to the consumers. Our ultimate goal is to dramatically reduce the amount of weight that reaches landfills, creating a zero-waste society.''
RecycleBank estimates that it diverts 128 million pounds of recyclables a year for every 100,000 households. Municipalities save through reducing their landfill tipping fees which range from $40-$90 per ton with the savings shared with RecycleBank.
In virtually every municipality in which RecycleBank operates, recycling participation rates have jumped from 25 percent to 80-90 percent, Gonen said. More importantly, he said, the amount of material recycled has doubled and tripled, with the average household recycling 100 pounds of materials monthly, including 7 pounds of plastics, which he said are mostly containers made from PET and high density polyethylene.
The increase has been so significant in all the communities where we operate that we are getting a 40-50 percent diversion rate and a recycling rate of at least 60-70 percent, said Gonen
He said that RecycleBank, which relies on curbside collection of material, has no specific position on a number of state proposals to add deposits to soft drink and water bottles. But he questioned whether that is the right message to send consumers, since recycling rates achieved by RecycleBank are more than twice as high as the general 24-26 percent recycling rate for PET and HDPE.
We can get significantly above 50 percent with our program, Gonen said. The right message should be that we are going to give you a program that can achieve even higher rates. A recycling rate of 70-90 percent is our goal and what we think is an appropriate number and what we are trying to achieve.
Gonen said he's a believer in the green movement's acceptance by the public.
There are a lot of major initiatives going on in the environmental space that will have a tremendous impact five years from now, he said.