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L.A. will reward recycling through new RecycleBank program [Updated]

February 24, 2010 |  9:28 am


The city of L.A. unveiled a pilot program Tuesday to encourage more recycling of beer bottles, old newspapers, cardboard, plastic and other recyclables. Called RecycleBank, the program gives points to individuals who recycle, worth as much as $400 per year per blue bin.

Angelenos already reduce, reuse or recycle about 65% of their waste -- the highest rate of the country’s 10 largest cities. But in an effort to be "the cleanest, greenest big city in America," with a "goal of zero waste," according to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who announced the L.A. RecycleBank program, "we are building innovative partnerships that will employ outside resources ... to motivate residents to recycle more and pump money directly back into the local economy."

About 15,000 single-family homes in the West Valley and North Central sections of L.A. are eligible for the program, which will begin April 5 after participating residents’ bins have been equipped with identification tags that allow their waste to be weighed and assigns them points that can be redeemed at various retailers. CVS, Bed Bath & Beyond and Ruby Tuesday are among the national chains participating in the program. El Pollo Loco, Tritsch True Value Hardware and Jollibee are some of the local businesses that have also teamed with RecycleBank. Throughout the nation, more than 1,000 stores accept RecycleBank points.

"For too long, people viewed doing things for the environment as the right thing to do but costly," said RecycleBank Chief Executive Ron Gonen, who founded the company in 2005. "I wanted to start a movement that said smart environmental decisions were also smart economic decisions. Recycling could have the biggest impact in terms of changing that view and behavior because it touches every house."

Headquartered in New York City, RecycleBank has contracts with more than 50 cities in the U.S., including Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Atlanta and now L.A.

According to the city’s Bureau of Sanitation director, Enrique Zaldivar, the pilot program will run for at least one year and possibly two. Northridge, Topanga, Sherman Oaks, Hollywood, Lincoln Heights and Cypress Park are among the neighborhoods that will be included in the pilot.

In early March, Zaldivar said, residents along various waste-collection routes will receive mailers that explain what they can recycle and how they can register for the program. Their existing blue bins will also be equipped with a bar code and ID stickers incorporating microchips that include the home's account number so they can receive their recycling rewards. The rewards are weight-based and will be evenly distributed among an entire waste-collection route, not by individual participation. [Updated at 1:25 p.m.: A previous version of this post said that participating homeowners would receive new bins and that the microchip was encoded with personal information.]

A ton of recyclables brings the city $25 of revenue rather than costing the city $30 to dispose of it, Zaldivar said, adding that the city’s goal is to increase the current 65% waste-diversion rate to 70% by 2013. Part of that increase could happen as a result of the RecycleBank partnership, which could start rolling out to an additional 745,000 single-family and small-apartment households as early as April 2011. The ultimate goal for the program is 1.2 million households.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo credit: RecycleBank