A few years ago, the city of Berkeley, California, gave away cash for clean recyclables through a program called Trash for Cash. Derek Crutchfield, recycling coordinator for Public Works Department in Vallejo, California, was inspired to start his own program that rewards customers for good behavior.
“Vallejo wasn’t in the position to give away cash, so I came up with the idea of giving away a year of free garbage service," Crutchfield says. “This is actually the third time that we have done the program and it is always have been very popular.”
Each month, Crutchfield will randomly select a participant and go through their recyclables. If items in the trash and recycling bin are properly sorted, then the household will be rewarded with a year of free garbage pickup, or apartments and businesses are given a $1,000 discount through the incentive program, Recycling Rewards.
“We have a recycling rewards yard sign that is placed in the winner’s yard so that all the neighbors can see that they won, which encourages participation,” Crutchfield says. “However, if there is contamination in the recycling cart or we find recyclables in the garbage, we leave a letter explaining why we could not reward them, and we provide them with information regarding how to recycle properly. This really is a good outreach tool.”
The year-long program started in 2014 in recognition of America Recycles Day Nov. 15. Recology, California, decided to offer the program again this year due to high contamination levels, Crutchfield says. In addition, the city is trying to ramp up mandatory commercial and organics recycling efforts.
Municipalities and solid waste companies are using different strategies across the nation to reduce contamination levels.
The city of Akron, Ohio, has also started inspecting and tagging recycling bins that contain materials not permitted in the program. The second time a bin is tagged, the bin will be taken away along with a discount the city provides to residents, according to a news report.
Recology has also conducted a “flip the lid" inspection program, but curbside inspections are labor intensive and “only address the contamination in the recycling cart,” Crutchfield says.
“The recycling rewards program requires that no trash be in the resident’s recyclable cart and no recyclables in the garbage cart,” he says.
While inspecting bins over the years, Crutchfield has been able to address common recycling mistakes. He adds the chasing arrow symbol is the “biggest hindrance” due to unclear messaging.
He says, "When residents see it, they automatically think that contain, plastic bag, Styrofoam cup are recyclable, but there are several disposable materials that have that chasing arrow symbol that are not recyclable."
Recology will give away 12 “packages” of a year of free garbage service through the program.
Of the recycling incentive program, Crutchfield says, “Participation level is high, and the residents really love this program.”
Also, Crutchfield says China’s National Sword Policy was a “driving force” behind hosting this program. In response to National Sword, he says he hopes the program will address some contamination issues at the city’s material recovery facility (MRF). Also, this time of year he says there tends to be even higher contamination rates.
“Contamination is high and has been for a while,” he says. “We have found that contamination levels are especially high during holiday season because residents tend to use their recycling carts as overflow for their garbage cans.”
The city also hopes to increase commercial recycling rates, Crutchfield says, which goes alongside its efforts to meet mandatory commercial recycling and mandatory organics recycling efforts.
“Recycling rewards is an outreach tool that allows us to see the common recycling mistakes that residents are making,” he adds.