Judy Piche and her husband recycle "everything." The Maple Grove residents pack their blue 18-gallon bin and often fill a cardboard box beside it.
In early 2009, the couple will begin receiving rewards for their recycling beyond the feel-good kind.
Allied Waste Services of Minnesota is introducing a program that will compensate its customers for their used paper and containers with coupons and gift certificates.
The program, called RecycleBank, will keep track of recycling levels by neighborhood, using computer chips embedded in each recycling bin and detected by trucks making pickups. The more a neighborhood recycles, the more coupons its residents will receive.
RecycleBank is in operation in several states, including New York, Nebraska and Pennsylvania. Here, it has partnered with Allied Waste to offer the program for the first time in Minnesota.
Maple Grove is the first city in the state to approve a contract that includes it. In Eden Prairie, where the decision of recycling contractors is left to households, not the city, Allied customers also will begin earning points this month. And more cities are in line for the service.
RecycleBank is Allied Waste's answer to a conundrum many recyclers are trying to solve: How to increase the tonnage of materials people are recycling. The percentage of recycling has plateaued statewide for the last decade at about 41 percent.
The idea behind RecycleBank is, if you pay people to recycle, they'll put more in their bins.
Rich Hirstein, Allied Waste's district municipal services manager, divided recyclers into three categories: The ardent, the casual and the non.
He hopes the program gives non-recyclers a reason to start, the casual recyclers a reason to do more, "and then the last category -- the ardent recyclers -- we're trying to reward those people."
Before approving the five-year recycling contract with Allied Waste last month, Maple Grove pushed to ensure that the coupons residents would receive would be valuable.
"It doesn't do you any good to get a coupon you can get anywhere else," said Gerry Butcher, public works director. "Ten dollars off a $50 grocery bill, on the other hand, is very meaningful."
Allied will weigh the materials picked up in a particular run and then calculate and average for those residents whose bins were ID'd by the truck. The neighborhood will split the rewards.
In the future, however, Allied hopes to be able to weigh each household's contributions individually and reward recyclers accordingly.
For every one pound recycled, a participant will earn 2.5 "RecycleBank Points." The company will log a household's points online, much like a rewards credit card, and residents can choose which coupons they'd like to receive. In Eden Prairie, more than 150 businesses -- including Punch Pizza, Lions Tap and Linens 'n Things -- have signed on.
RecycleBank will never give the businesses residents' contact information, Hirstein said.
The program will use larger bins and a no-sort policy that the companies say leads to people recycling more.
Several studies show that allowing people to throw all their recyclables into one bin increases the amount they recycle. Waste Management said recycling rates generally rise 15 percent when they switch from pre-sorted to no-sort pickups. Allied Waste says its rates generally rise 15 to 20 percent.
But experts have also found that single-stream recycling can increase the amount of non-recyclable material entering and continuing through the recycling stream.
"You hear a lot about single-stream increasing quantities set out at the curb, and that is correct," said recycling consultant Tim Goodman, of Tim Goodman &Associates in St. Louis Park. "Whether or not that increases the recycling rate, there are still questions about that."
But Allied Waste, which serves about 150,000 residential customers in the greater Twin Cities area, stands by its recycling rate. It says that it recycles all but about 3.8 percent of what it picks up, and that its equipment easily handles the sorting with minimal contamination.
Maple Grove residents will begin receiving their bigger, computer-chip marked carts in January and will begin earning points in February.
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168