In light of recent funding problems, Recyclebank — an incentive-based program that works to foster increased recycling efforts in the city — has received mixed reactions from community members regarding its single stream recycling rewards program.
The program, which was enacted by the city when in March 2010, institutes a fee charge per week per recycling container based on the data from RecycleBank. However, there have been fewer distributions of containers than the contract estimated, resulting in less income than anticipated.
In response to the city’s recent consideration to eliminate the program, Tom McMurtrie, Ann Arbor’s solid waste coordinator, wrote in an e-mail interview that according to the statistics, RecycleBank credits itself with providing about $100,000 per year in economic activity in Ann Arbor, as well as increasing the recycling rates.
However, McMurtrie wrote while he is unsure of how much of the 20-percent increase in recycling over the past year can be attributed to RecycleBank, he estimated the recycling amount may drop about 5 percent if the city terminates its contract with Recyclebank.
He added that assuming recycling amounts reduce about 5 percent, the net financial impact would be about a $32,500 loss per year for the city.
Ann Arbor Council member Sabra Briere wrote in an e-mail interview she opposes the decision to continue with RecycleBank because the recycling statistics the contract predicted include unrealistic figures.
The RAA contract amendment for single stream recycling states that based on an analysis of similar RecycleBank communities recycling will increase from 357 to 752 pounds of recycling collected per household per year.
While recycling amounts have increased, there’s no evidence the incentive program offered by RecycleBank has been effective, she wrote.
“For me, the expectations in this contract seem, in retrospect, to be as unrealistic as those who opposed the project suspected,” Briere wrote.
Briere also wrote the elimination of the program would allow those funds to be redirected.
“It’s not been an entire year since this program began, but, in my view, eliminating the contract with RecycleBank and redirecting some of those savings toward RAA would be revenue-neutral,” she wrote.
She added that even with a penalty for ending the contract — which is set for ten years —the city will see an increase in recycling.
“Ann Arbor has been recycling for a long time, since the 70s, and I believe this is not just a habit, but a shared community value,” she wrote. “Single-stream recycling, if it’s cost effective, encourages recycling by making more things recyclable and easier to keep out of the landfill.”
Briere noted that while recycling and composting are an addition to the city’s tasks, basic garbage collection is not.
“I believe the City has a commitment to decrease the amount of materials taken to the land-fill, and to increase the amount recycled and repurposed,” she wrote. “Some things cannot be recycled, however, and everyone who lives in our community— or many others, for that matter — expects the government to pick up the trash, period. And that’s what I hope we continue to do, even as we try to limit the amount.”
According to the annual report on recycling in Ann Arbor from August 2010 to May 2011, the number of members subscribed to RecycleBank is steadily increasing, and subscription rate reached 41.4 percent this May.
“At this point, we have been with the RecycleBank program for a little less than a year, and we feel that the program is still in its infancy,” McMurtrie wrote. “With continued promotion and education, we believe that it should expand recycling tonnages in the future.”