Rewards make recycling a winner


When Royal Borough residents put out their recycling for weekly collection they get a lot more than just the knowledge they are doing their bit for the environment – important though that is.

Recycling with us means rewards – a carrot-not-stick approach to changing behaviour that makes reducing landfill waste an enjoyable and beneficial experience. As the lorries trundle along local streets, taking away this week’s mixed recycling collection, residents who have signed up to the scheme can see their reward points going up with the prospect of vouchers, discounts and special offers to help with their shopping and leisure activities.

The results so far are looking good. We rolled out the scheme across the borough over six months last year, ending in December, and since then there has been a marked increase in recycling rates – over 44 per cent of all collected waste (as at the end of July), compared to 35 per cent the previous year. What’s more, 52 per cent of all residents have activated their RecycleBank account – and this number is rising.

A UK first
It was in 2008 that we first examined the concept of recycling rewards – the first council in the UK to do so. We looked to the USA for evidence that this kind of scheme could work and we found RecycleBank – well-established there and responsible for boosting recycling rates from 30 per cent to 80 per cent, now reaching two million residents across 300 cities in 30 states.
We decided that RecycleBank could help us meet our objectives of:
•    saving the avoidable cost of landfill tax
•    putting residents first and helping to
maintain low council tax
•    encouraging sustainable behaviour by
increasing recycling
•    boosting the local economy with rewards
that encourage people to shop local.

Pilot projects

It was a big project, involving not only RecycleBank but also our waste contractors, Veolia Environmental Services, and we didn’t rush into it borough-wide without two pilot schemes. The first involved residents already signed up to our garden waste collection scheme who helped us test the equipment and systems on their green wheelie bins. The second saw us providing some 3,000 homes with new blue wheelie bins to see how the mixed collection would work.

Both pilots were great successes and in June 2010 we announced the borough-wide roll out – a huge task that meant more than 60,000 new blue wheelie bins had to be provided, fitted with the Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) chips needed to allow the specially-equipped collection vehicles to scan the bins and weigh the recycling from each household that had opted into the voluntary scheme. We took special care with encryption techniques to protect residents’ privacy and only the weight of each bin assigned to an individual property is collected.

We also stated we would find a way of including residents unable to accommodate the tagged wheelie bins – e.g. in flats or homes with narrow accesses. This meant a further 14,000 households and was achieved through a community weight based scheme in which residents report their participation, with the reward points pooled and shared amongst the homes taking part.

Recyclebank’s successful marketing to the business community resulted in Marks & Spencer signing up as the flagship reward partner from the outset and there are more than 100 other national and local partners offering special discounts and deals – from coffee shops and restaurants to leisure centres and fashion stores.

It’s win-win-win for all – for the council with reducing landfill tax, for businesses with the potential for increased trade and for residents who only have to recycle and register to benefit from up to £135 reward values a year.

There is an added benefit for local schools with residents given the option of donating their points to RecycleBank’s Green Schools programme which offers grant funding for initiatives that educate children about the environment and encourage them to recycle in a fun, interactive way.

Making sense financially
From a financial point of view, the scheme is revenue neutral. We pay a flat fee per household to RecycleBank, offset by the reduced landfill tax. The capital costs – including £900,000 for the new bins, which we would have been buying anyway, and £350,000 for retro-fitting the collection vehicles – will be amortised over the next ten years.

Feedback from our residents is extremely positive – the registration figures speak for themselves – and RecycleBank is continuing to market the scheme to encourage even more households to join in. We are just nine months into the full roll out so we are still gathering information but evidence shows a very encouraging trend towards sustained behavioural change.

The introduction of recycling rewards has helped the Royal Borough cement its reputation as a leading employer and service provider through what is a bold, innovative, perceptive and common sense solution to a global challenge.

What’s next? We are close to finalising two multi-million pound contracts for waste collection and disposal, both of which will have significant impact on sustainability and value for money, and of course taking the scheme even further – but that’s a story for another day!

For more information
Tel: 01628 683 800


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