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Articles

With a population of fifteen thousand and a land area of less than four square miles, the city of Everett Massachusetts collects as much as forty tons of solid waste on a given trash day. For years less than ten percent of this burden was recycled, leaving a substantial amount to be disposed of at landfills or incinerators at a cost of roughly $75 per ton. With landfills and other trash-handling facilities already overburdened, the cost to taxpayers and the environment rises every year.

We came upon these facts through Jon Norton, a retired schoolteacher whose interest in solving the problem led to a part-time job as city recycling manager. But he had trouble making real progress as the city budget was ever more strained by the cost of hauling and dumping waste. More pressure came as the bursting of the real estate bubble, which sent property values and tax collection plummeting downward.

With his beloved community under stress, Norton met Ron Gonen. Not quite half Norton’s age, Gonen had come to Massachusetts to promote a Brooklyn-based start-up called RecycleBank. Using truck-mounted scales and bins with electronic identification tags, the company weighs the paper, glass, and metal left on the curb by individual households and rewards them with shopping discounts. Think of it as ‘frequent flyer points for recycling.’ Every month, RecycleBank deposits a weight-based credit in each recycler’s account. Those points can be used for discounts on products or services. The companies honoring the points are happy for the business and the goodwill that comes with encouraging a “green” project.

Norton and Gonen rightly figured that people want do the right thing, but they’d also like a reward. Today Jon Norton reports a big increase in recycling, a dramatic drop in landfill expenses, and a savings of more than $1 million per year for local taxpayers. RecycleBank, meanwhile, is expanding its business across the country and recently entered the market in Great Britain.

RecycleBank is one of fifty companies interviewed for the Wall Street Journal best-seller: Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell and Live.

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