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Ann Arbor partners with RecycleBank to promote new recycling initiative

Salam Rida/Daily
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BY CLAIRE GOSCICKI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 8, 2010

The City of Ann Arbor has partnered with RecycleBank — a program that aims to promote environmental friendliness throughout the United States and United Kingdom — for a new initiative to increase recycling among single-family homes and duplexes.

Area residents who sign up to participate in the program will be offered incentive points according to the number of pounds of materials they recycle each week. And those points can be redeemed at local and national retailers, grocers and restaurants.

Each time a household recycles with a RecycleBank 64-gallon cart, sensors in the cart will track participation and credit RecycleBank points to a household’s online account.

Last July, Ann Arbor moved away from double-stream recycling, which involved separating recyclables by mixed papers and mixed containers before placing them curbside. Now the city uses a single-stream recycling system. RecycleBank has taken advantage of the move, allowing all recyclables to be placed into a single cart.

Thomas McMurtrie, the city’s solid waste coordinator, said the efforts to consolidate recyclables were part of a larger effort, which includes the RecycleBank partnership, to make recycling more accessible.

“We’re making recycling convenient and easy for everyone,” McMurtrie said.

With this new emphasis on environmental consciousness, city officials said they hope to see recycling rates double or even triple during the Ann Arbor-RecycleBank partnership, which began on Sept. 1 and will last 10 years.

According to a press release issued by the city, recycling rates in participating cities Rochester Hills and Westland are up 241 percent and 458 percent, respectively.

“We have a very robust multi-family community,” said Nancy Stone, spokeswoman for the city of Ann Arbor. “Our understanding with RecycleBank is that we want to work with them to develop a multi-family (housing) program and eventually a business program as well.”

Expanding the program to students in unique housing situations may bring a new set of challenges, McMurtrie said, including dealing with high turnover rates in campus-area housing.

“Our plan is to evaluate the program over the next year and then come back with a recommendation to City Council,” McMurtrie said. “It’s more difficult with group housing because it involves multiple people using shared (recycling) carts.”

Mailings with instructions for signing up to participate were sent out to a significant portion of the nearly 33,000 total homes in Ann Arbor. For those students living off campus in houses and invited to participate in the initiative, the benefits of recycling each week can add up.

Melody Serafino, a spokeswoman for New York-headquartered RecycleBank, said participants can earn an average of $130-$200 per year in rewards.

“The main incentive for the student who probably is on a bit of a budget ... is the rewards program,” Serafino said.

The rewards program allows recyclers to turn their acquired RecycleBank points into food, home goods, entertainment items and more at RecycleBank.com for use at local businesses, including Arbor Brewing Company, Downtown Home and Garden, The Village Apothecary and Zingerman’s Deli.

Education senior Rebecca Long, who lives off campus in a house divided into multiple apartments, said she’d be inclined to focus more on recycling if she was offered incentives.

Along with bolstering local business and offering residents rewards, the initiative will bring additional funds to the city while decreasing overall city waste.

“The city sees it as a quadruple win,” Serafino said.