City's latest on recycling: Coupons

Posted: March 11, 2010

A $5 discount on a $40 purchase at ShopRite. A break on admission to the Please Touch Museum. Or a lottery for four movie tickets.

These are some of the discounts offered under the Recycling Rewards program that the city is rolling out citywide over the next few months.

Mayor Nutter last week said that residents could earn enough rewards through the program to offset some or all of his proposed $300 annual trash fee.

But just how easy will it be to get these rewards?

The program, run by the city and a private firm called RecycleBank, works like this:

You get a sticker to put on your recycling bin, which is scanned each week. Then the total recycling for your section of the city - the city will be divided into six zones - will be tallied. You then are awarded points based on your zone's total recycling performance and your individual participation.

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Those points can be used to redeem coupons via the Internet or by phone. But the examples provided by RecycleBank - a Philadelphia company that runs incentive programs in cities around the country - are largely for discounts on purchases at stores or restaurants and vary based on the retailer.

So with 50 points you can get a $4 discount off a $20 purchase at CVS, or $5 off a $40 purchase at ShopRite. The city provided some examples of direct awards - 100 points could get a free cup of coffee or ice-cream cone at McDonald's. Or 200 points yields one ticket to the Please Touch Museum.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, a critic of the trash fee, applauded efforts to increase recycling, but questioned whether coupons would truly defray the added trash bill.

"I don't see one offsetting the other," she said. "I don't see any scenario where one offsets the other."

Budget Director Steve Agostini said yesterday that the administration was reviewing whether it could provide credits that could be used to pay the trash fee. Finance Director Rob Dubow said the administration would review the financial impact of such an idea.

Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson said that small local businesses are in the mix.

"There was a direct effort to go out into neighborhoods," she said.

Under the city's contract with RecycleBank, the company is paid on a performance basis. If the recycling rate goes up above 25 percent, then the company gets a percentage of the savings.

Last year, Philadelphia's recycling rate was 12 percent - with roughly 75,000 tons recycled out of a total of 640,000 tons thrown away, Tolson said. The city pays about $65 to dispose of a ton of trash and makes about $5 for disposing of a ton of recycling, Tolson said. The city has set of recycling goal of 20 percent by the end of 2011 and a 25 percent rate by the end of 2012.

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