In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the City of Ann Arbor has released reports showing the participation rate of Ann Arbor households in the Recyclebank program, which rewards citizens for putting out their recycling. The reports were provided in graphical format, so all numbers here are approximated.
The summary report of program performance provided in response to the request shows that about 40% of eligible citizens (about 9500 of 24000) have signed up for the program. These citizens accumulate points which can be exchanged for coupons that offer discounts to participating merchants. In the most recent month reported, May 2011, citizens earned about 1.5 million points and cashed in about 10% of them, resulting in about 1600 rewards ordered.
The Recyclebank contract costs the City of Ann Arbor about $200,000 per year. At current reward redemption rates, citizens will cash in on the order of 20,000 reward coupons, or less than one per eligible household, at an estimated program cost of approximately $10 per delivered coupon. This number could be $15 per coupon at the low monthly participation rate, and $7 per coupon at the high monthly rate; participation varies with the seasons, and a complete year of data is not yet in.
The reports provided do not address the question of whether rewards are increasing participation in the recycling program. If it did, this detail report showing recycling rates per route would also include a Recyclebank participation rate per route, and you'd be able to see at a glance whether routes with a high degree of Recyclebank participation correlate with increased recycling performance.
Are incentives driving increased recycling use? The reports provided do not make a compelling case. Redemption rates are so low that most people don't appear to bother cashing in their rewards. Even with this low redemption rate, almost 90% of people put their recycle cart out at least once a month, suggesting that people in Ann Arbor are already recycling at a high rate independent of external rewards.
We always recycle, regardless. My husband did print out a coupon for a free trip to the big recycle center, and I think one for a shopping bag that I haven’t redeemed yet. We were looking at the site to see if we could find numbers on the amount of trash vs. recycling picked up for a project my daughter’s class did on the families’ ecological footprints.
I started out participating with RecycleBank, but asked to have my account deleted because they sent an email every week with my “account update” which only served to annoy me. Plus, as I recall, their site required more security than my (financial) bank! Who needs that for trash?
So, in a word, NO, rewards did not do anything to change my participation in the recycling program. The larger cart + less restrictive “acceptable items” did.
p.s. I never did use the one coupon I “earned” for signing up. The offer just wasn’t compelling enough.
We’ve actively recycled for many years because it’s the right thing to do. Single stream is easy for the individual recycler, but at what cost?
We’ve never used the Recyclebank coupon scheme and for the few cents it might provide it seems such a hassle for the time and effort required.
My family also recycles because it’s the right thing to do. Recyclebank offers insignificant discounts that I can get for “free” elsewhere. The coupons that I’ve used and want more of suddenly became limited to once a week or once a month. Hardly worth the hassle.