DFW cities start program that offer incentives for curbside recycling

Being green can now make you some green -- and quickly grow a city's curbside recycling program.

Residents of North Texas cities including Fort Worth, Hurst, Haslet and Lancaster can earn points toward gift cards, coupons and discounts at restaurants and retailers simply by filling their recycling bins at home.

The recycle incentives program, introduced in Fort Worth two weeks ago, is run by Recyclebank, a New York-based company that partners with communities to boost participation in their recycling programs. Started in 2008, the company now works with more than 300 cities in the U.S. and United Kingdom and has more than 3.4 million members.

Signing up is easy. Fort Worth residents can visit for a free account or call 888-727-2978. The only information required is your name, ZIP code and e-mail address.

Others can sign up at their city websites or visit Residents who don't have curbside recycling and those who live in cities not linked with the program can register and take environmental pledges and online educational quizzes to earn points.

In some cities, such as Hurst, residents get a new bin with an RFID chip embedded to record its weight. Bin weights are then added together to calculate the recycled tonnage for the whole city. Points are awarded based on total volume and split evenly among those who sign up for Recyclebank.

Fort Worth's program does not include bins equipped with RFID chips. Instead, points are awarded based on the weight of citywide weekly recycled collections and distributed among those who sign up.

"For every pound, we award 2.5 points, so 20 pounds of material would equal 50 points," said Fred Hannon, general regional manager for Recyclebank. "In Fort Worth, you get 300 bonus points for setting up your account."

About 20,000 people in Fort Worth have signed up since the program was launched April 16, Hannon said.

"When people start taking advantage of their points -- when they go to a Pappas restaurant and get free food -- we'll starting seeing more sign up," he said. "We're like a frequent-flier program for the waste industry. The more you recycle, the more points you earn."

The program has seen impressive results in other cities.

Hurst, which started in August, has seen a significant increase in curbside recycling, according to Ashleigh Whiteman, spokeswoman for the city.

Before the program began, the city averaged 17.9 tons of recycled material per service day, Whiteman said. Now the city averages 24.7 tons per day, an increase of 38 percent. More than 2,500 city residents have enrolled in the program.

Whiteman signed up for a Recylebank account when the program started and said she typically earns 50 to 60 points a week, although the last few weeks have yielded 90 points a week. A weekly e-mail from Recyclebank tells her how many points she has.

Like many other program members, Whiteman earns extra points by taking online quizzes and encouraging friends to sign up. Bonus points can be earned through Recyclebank's smartphone app or over the phone. Whiteman said she hasn't used her points yet and plans to accumulate them for bigger awards that require more points.

A similar program, My Republic Rewards, is being tested in part of Arlington. Early results look "extremely positive," said Dan Jameson, spokesman for Allied Waste, the city's recycling contractor. The City Council will decide whether to roll out the program citywide after the test is concluded, he said.

Houston has seen almost a doubling of recycled materials since it rolled out Recyclebank in three phases beginning in November 2009, Hannon said.

Houston's participation jumped to 35 percent of all households, and recycled volume grew from 532 pounds per household per year to 1,040, Hannon said.

"It's a win-win scenario," he said. "When people recycle more, that means less that goes into the landfill, which has an environmental impact. Less money is needed for cities to send trucks to disposal sites, while cities can often make money on their recyclables program. And residents can benefit by earning points that they often redeem in their community."

Fort Worth residents are diverting approximately 23 percent of materials from the landfill by using blue recycling carts and weekly yard waste collections, according to a city official. The goal is 40 percent.

Retailers and restaurants involved with Recyclebank rewards include national companies like Macy's, Sears and Wal-Mart, as well as local restaurants like Ted E's Burgers and Dickey's Barbeque, which offer discounts.

As with frequent-flier programs, residents can also give their points away. Recyclebank has a school fundraising program where schools can earn up to $2,500 by collecting points from residents.

Recyclebank donated $99,800 to 34 schools in the 2010-11 academic year. Since the Green School's program started in 2007, Recyclebank members' points have earned schools nearly $350,000 in donations.

Teresa McUsic's column appears Saturdays.