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Los Angeles is banking on recycling

March 10, 2010 |  7:00 am

Los Angeles officials are trying to encourage more recycling of beer bottles, old newspapers, cardboard, plastic and other recyclables. RecycleBank, a city program, gives points to residents 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 among the country’s 10 largest cities. But Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who announced the L.A. RecycleBank program, wants to push the city toward a goal of zero waste.

About 15,000 single-family homes in the West Valley and North Central sections of L.A. are eligible for the program, which is to begin April 5. Participating residents’ bins will be equipped with identification tags that allow their waste to be weighed and assigned points that can be redeemed at various retailers. CVS, Bed Bath & Beyond and Ruby Tuesday are among the national chains participating in the program. Local businesses include El Pollo Loco, Tritsch True Value Hardware and Jollibee.

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 Ron Gonen, RecycleBank's chief executive, who co-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, RecycleBank has contracts with more than 50 cities in the U.S., including Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Atlanta and now L.A.

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

Residents along various routes will receive mailers this month that explain what they can recycle and how they can register for the program. Their existing blue bins will 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 based on weight and will be evenly distributed among households along an entire route, not by individual participation.

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 come from the additional 745,000 single-family and small-apartment households expected to become part of the RecycleBank program as early as April 2011. The ultimate goal for the program is 1.2 million households.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: A recycling bin is emptied into a truck in North Hollywood. Credit: Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times