Recyclebank Offers Rewards for Green Actions

As crafty parents know, turning chores into games can motivate hard work. New York’s Recyclebank uses a similar approach with its incentive program to encourage recycling.

Working with community and school organizations, as well as with individual members, Recyclebank offers rewards points to those who recycle empty bottles, cereal boxes, pet food cans, sandwich bags, and the like. The rewards points, as with other types of incentive programs, can be exchanged for discounts on products and services from retailers and restaurants. In the never-ending cycle of manufacturing and consumption, Recyclebank believes its incentives can help stem the tide of waste. “We need to find ongoing solutions to live in balance with the resources that are available on this planet,” says CEO Jonathan Hsu.

Offering incentives for good “green behavior” seems to be catching on. The seven-year-old company is growing rapidly, Hsu says, with more than 2.6 million members in its program, up three times from a year ago. “We are deployed in 300 communities in the US and the UK,” he says.

Hsu took the reins at the company last October after serving as CEO of digital marketing company 24/7 Real Media in New York. One of his goals has been to expand Recyclebank’s services. In May Recyclebank acquired GreenYour, a Web-based guide that offers tips on living green. According to a June regulatory filing, RecycleRewards, of which Recyclebank is a subsidiary, secured $2.1 million in equity. Since its inception Recyclebank has raised more than $85 million, according to Hsu, from investors such as RRE Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Thanks to the influx of cash, the company is looking to make new hires, though no timetable has been announced. Currently the company has just under 180 employees, Hsu says.

In addition to fueling staff growth, Hsu says, some of the funds will go toward extending Recyclebank’s reach into new territories. “The mandate of the company is to be the first mass market green brand,” Hsu says. “We need to have operations ubiquitously throughout the United States and the United Kingdom and look toward other international expansion opportunities.”

Recyclebank is paid by municipalities a percentage of their net savings from increased recycling rates and reductions in the waste stream to landfills, Hsu says. “In its first year with Recyclebank, the city of Hollywood, Florida, saved almost half a million dollars in waste disposal fees,” he says. Still, some clients have not stuck with the program. The New Jersey town of Moorestown, for instance, opted in June to end its participation with Recyclebank. Calls to the township administration for comment were not immediately returned.

Hsu became CEO last October.

Still, Hsu hopes the appeal of rewards for eco-friendly behavior will catch on in more communities. Recyclebank members use their points for discounts on products from such companies as Aveeno, Unilever, and Kashi. (Such companies also pay advertizing and sponsorship fees to Recyclebank, Hsu says.) For example, members can earn 50 points for each Kashi cereal box they recycle. Members must enter a code, printed inside each box, at the Recyclebank website to claim the points. Rewards include discounts with retailers such as Macy’s and Brookstone as well as with eateries such as Ruby Tuesday.

In addition to tracking codes via the Web, the company uses hardware to record recycling behavior, according to Javier Flaim, Recyclebank’s vice president of global marketing. “We put an RFID chip inside recycling containers so if a member puts out recyclables, a truck would pick up the container and measure how many pounds of recyclables were inside the bin,” he says. That technology is used in participating communities which equip trucks and bins for the program. Individuals can earn points, or residents can share points earned by their respective neighborhoods, based on overall poundage.

Hsu says Recyclebank is exploring other ways to reward its members, such as via social badges, which announce users’ recycling accomplishments to followers in their social networks. “The recognition for achieving, especially in terms of sustainability, is an important form of reward,” Hsu says. The company is also contemplating incentives for increased water conservation and green consumer choices in transportation. “There is a real opportunity to further enhance that relationship we have with individual members,” he says. “We can offer them a chance to see the impact of their actions.”

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