RecycleBank offers homeowners incentives for recycling.
By Holly Burns
Launched in 2004, RecycleBank is a company that gives households incentives, in the form of credit, for participating in the recycling program. This company and its founders, Patrick Fitzgerald and Ron Gonan, are an inspiration to entrepreneurs across the country who are trying to launch their own TBL-aligned companies.
How does RecycleBank work? Members earn “RecycleBank points” based on the amount of things they recycle. Points can then be used at a variety of retailers. RecycleBank has set up a couple ways for members to earn points:
Curbside: RecycleBank partners with city sanitation crews by installing a computer chip in recycling bins. Recycling bins are weighed at pick up and the chip is scanned. In that way, the recycling weight is recorded, earning the household RecycleBank points, which can be spent at over 1,500 local, regional and national stores. As Bonnie DeSimone from the New York Times put it, “Municipal officials save disposal fees. Recycling companies make more money from processing. Retailers gain the feel-good association with a socially beneficial activity.”
EWaste: RecycleBank gives its members the opportunity to earn free points by recycling laptops, cell phones and other electronics that many community curbside recycling programs reject. The RecycleBank member is issued a printable packing slip and mailing label for mailing electronics to a RecycleBank partner, then the goods are inspected and the credits are issued to the RecycleBank member.
RecycleBank got its start back in the early 2000’s when the value of the New York City recycling program was in question. Fitzgerald began researching the economics and challenges of recycling and came to the conclusion that environmental concern was not a strong enough reason for garbage generators to separate paper and plastic. He approached his longtime friend, Gonen, with an idea to pay people to induce good recycling habits.
Armed with their life savings, credit cards and ideas, Fitzgerald and Gonen began plowing ahead towards their goals. Fitzgerald conducted in-depth research in order to network with the solid-waste industry and to uncover retailers who might be willing to participate in the customer rewards program they had in mind. Gonen was working towards an MBA at Columbia University at the time and built a business plan and software. Out of their joint obsession, came RecycleBank.
Now RecycleBank is getting global attention for its swift thinking and it’s headed overseas; earlier this year, it was crowned a Champion of the Earth by the United Nations Environment program. Gonen told the crowd at the April event, “Today, RecycleBank serves over one million people in 20 states across the United States and that number continues to increase every week. We will launch our service in Europe this summer. To date, the material recycled by the households we service has enabled RecycleBank to save cities tens of millions of dollars annually in landfill disposal fees, save over 1.5 million trees and save millions of gallons of oil.”