Recyclebank: Using Rewards To Wage War Against Waste In America


Waste is a tremendous issue in the US, according to Recyclebank CEO Javier Flaim: “The latest numbers are something like 160 billion tonnes of trash are generated here in the US every year; that amounts to 4½ pounds per person per day.” That’s why Flaim’s predecessors, founders Patrick Fitzgerald and Ron Gonen set up Recyclebank in the early noughties, creating a rewards-based platform to tackle the issue.

Recyclebank’s innovative idea involved a points system which measured how much you recycled, and rewarded you accordingly. A chip on your bin weighed the recycled material, and relayed the information into an online user account, converting the weight to points. These points could be used for discount deals and rewards, a free meal in restaurant or a gift card for Amazon, for example, or donated to local schools or charities.

Recyclebank earns its revenues by taking a cut from the savings the municipality makes from not sending waste to the landfill. The firm also generates revenues through advertising on its points redemption website.

Rapid expansion

Fitzgerald and Gonen first rolled out the programme in Philadelphia, but it has now gone nationwide, and has also developed a much broader and more comprehensive approach.

Over one-third of Philadelphia has signed up for Recyclebank: “We’re quite proud of the progress we’ve made in terms of engaging as many people as possible,” said Flaim.

He told Salt that Recyclebank is now in every state in the US: “Fast forward to today in the US we’re in over 300 communities; we have over four million members on our platform, and we’re looking to continually engage, educate, reward, and incentivise individuals to recycle more.

“We remain 100 per cent focused on waste and over the years we’ve innovated quite a bit from a rewards platform to an ongoing engagement platform, social sharing and leveraging data to really impact waste an recycling.”

Recyclebank, which is now headquartered in Manhattan, has moved on from being just a points system. The data gathered from the weighing of bins is now handled by third parties and leveraged by Recyclebank, as it looks to cover more bases in its mission to reduce waste in the US. Its services include education and marketing.

Flaim explained: “We’re a behaviour-change marketing platform; so we leverage all the channels that we can and we partner with the city to get out there. We have a mobile app, a website, online, offline, direct mail, outdoor ­– we leverage any and all channels that we can in order to reach as many people as we can to educate them and reward them for doing the right thing.”

Recyclebank’s CEO added that the original idea was revolutionary at the time: “11 years ago, none of this existed: rewards platforms with waste and weight, ID chips. A decade later it’s much more advanced. But kudos to the original founders of Recyclebank, they made it up, they literally made up the system, and now forward thinking haulers are implementing those technologies and we’re able to leverage those technologies and data to really drive behaviour change.”

Public Private Partnerships

Flaim told Salt that Recyclebank is looking to continue to increase its impact: “The more cities we can engage, the more residents we can teach, the more individuals we can reward, the more forward-thinking mayors and departments of sanitation, as well as residents we can engage on our platform, the more the planet will win. That ultimately is our goal.”

Recyclebank’s latest innovation is working on public-private partnerships in order to make a real difference around waste, as Flaim explained: “We are well aware that cities and municipalities are struggling with funding whether it’s new asset deployment like new bins, or education programmes. So we’re able to leverage the private sector, whether it’s universities or brands, which can be part of the solution.

“Brands are very open to having discussions with Recyclebank and with cities, that’s where we’re seeing a lot of really interesting activity. We read somewhere that something like over $1 billion of waste infrastructure is sitting idle in the US, the municipalities just don’t have enough money to invest in.”


Photo Credit: Stathis Stavrianos from flickr