Fort Worth

City’s incentive-based recycling program changing at year’s end

A city employee sorts through a recycling bin in 2014.
A city employee sorts through a recycling bin in 2014. Star-Telegram archives

A program designed to encourage residential recycling in Fort Worth by rewarding participants with discount coupons for local and national businesses is changing at the end of the year because of low participation and a shift in philosophy.

Starting on Jan. 1, Recyclebank, a program used by the Code Compliance Department to encourage recycling, will stop rewarding residents based on their recycling efforts and will only award points earned online at through taking quizzes, making pledges and completing other interactive activities. Instead, rewards now will be paid for through Recyclebank sponsors.

About 38,000 households, out of a possible 215,000, have signed up for the program since it began more than four years ago, a number much lower than had hoped for, said Diane Covey, Code Compliance spokeswoman. On average, 3,800 to 4,000 of those earn points monthly, she said.

Instead, the savings from the program will be used to market recycling programs with businesses, where the city now feels it will have a greater impact on the life of the city’s landfill, Covey said.

The move comes as Code Compliance completes its 20-year Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan.

The city will no longer pay $300,000 to Houston-based Waste Management, the city’s trash contractor, for the program. Waste Management contracted with Recyclebank, a subsidiary of New York-based Recycle Rewards Inc., to operate Fort Worth’s program, said Robert Smouse, assistant director of the city’s Solid Waste Services.

Instead, additional money will be added for a total of $600,000 for a more comprehensive program that places an emphasis on commercial recycling from businesses, churches, schools and hospitals and others, while still encouraging residential recycling, Smouse said.

The program is called Recycling Star and “rewards those who recycle right and recycle more.” Under the program, four employees will serve on a technical assistance team to work with neighborhoods and businesses about recycling. The team will target neighborhoods with specific and strategic education efforts based on data, Smouse said.

“What we’ve determined … is broad-based education efforts aren’t as effective,” Smouse said. “Currently, many businesses do recycle, but many don’t. The plan identified the need to move in this direction.”

Commercial waste accounts for 67 percent of the materials going into the landfill, with the remaining 33 percent from the residential sector.

The city’s recycling rate has averaged 21 to 23 percent the past few years. Its goal is to increase that to 40 percent of recyclable materials being diverted from the landfill, Smouse said.

According to an August report to the City Council, conserving landfill space through a commercial recycling program will extend the life of the landfill until 2041, four years longer if the city made no changes to the recycling program.

Residential recycling programs nationwide are becoming costly to operate because residents put too many nonrecyclable materials into the blue bins, and it costs more to sort.