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[GreenYes] The Latest on RecycleBank and Philly Recycling

March 15 - Phila. Weekly
No Deposit, No Return
Environmentalists hope Philadelphia's new recycling coordinator will expand
RecycleBank throughout the city.
by Gwen Shaffer

When The New York Times ran an article last month about RecycleBank, a
government official in Saudi Arabia contacted the Philadelphia-based company
to inquire about bringing the program to the Middle East.

RecycleBank co-founder Patrick FitzGerald says he wasn't completely
surprised by the call. "I've heard from countries all over the world ...
Belize, France, the U.K., even Senegal."

Ironically, Philadelphia's own Streets Department is hesitant to sign a
contract with RecycleBank-which gives store coupons to residents who place
their recyclables, including plastic and cardboard, on the curb for weekly

The program has proved wildly popular in the West Oak Lane and Chestnut Hill
sections of the city, where a yearlong pilot program saw participation rates
jump from 15 percent to 90 percent. Residents earned up to $400 in credits
over the year, which they spent at more than 100 shops such as Starbucks,
Rite Aid, certain merchants at the Reading Terminal Market and TLA Video.

FitzGerald says he's also talking with officials in Boston, Atlanta and
Charlotte, N.C., about implementing the program citywide in these cities.

Philadelphia officials have balked at expanding the RecycleBank program to
all 500,000 households here, insisting that the cost is prohibitive.
Environmentalists who've watched Philadelphia's recycling rate slide
downward for the past decade counter that the Streets Department can't
afford not to bring RecycleBank to every neighborhood.

The Philadelphia controller issued a report last August concluding that not
only is the Streets Department violating Philadelphia's mandatory recycling
ordinance, but increasing recycling collection rates could save taxpayers
$17 million annually in landfill costs. Rather than implement the
controller's recommendations, the Streets Department refuted his findings.

But two events make local environmentalists hopeful that reforms are on the
horizon. Just last week a new recycling coordinator took the helm of
Philadelphia's floundering recycling program. In addition, City Council is
in the process of holding budget hearings, and the Streets Department is
likely to face tough questions about lagging recovery rates when it
testifies March 15. Council members Jannie Blackwell, Blondell
Reynolds-Brown and Michael Nutter have expressed support for a citywide
rollout of RecycleBank.

The Streets Department is negotiating with RecycleBank to expand the program
to 10,000 additional homes in Philadelphia (in addition to the 2,500
households already participating in the pilot program). FitzGerald stresses
that no deal has been reached.

"We're still in negotiations with RecycleBank right now," confirms Streets
Department spokesperson Emily Buenaflor.
Even if the two parties agree on a contract, recycling advocates remain
unimpressed. "At this rate it would take 52 years for the program to become
citywide," points out Maurice Sampson II, who served as Philadelphia's first
recycling coordinator.

He's working with a coalition of local advocacy groups on the Recycle NOW
Philadelphia Campaign. Members are hosting a series of forums in
neighborhoods around the city and urging civic associations to lobby the
Streets Department to "demand" incentive-based recycling in their own
neighborhoods, as well as running a petition campaign to raise awareness
about the issue.

"And our big push this month is to get a huge turnout for the City Council
budget hearing March 29," says Emily Linn, who works on recycling for the
Clean Air Council.

But environmentalists aren't waiting till the end of the month to rally the
troops. During a March 2 forum in Center City, members of the Recycling
Alliance noted that RecycleBank is "the only thing" to effectively boost
recycling participation rates in the past 10 years. For instance, the
Streets Department spent about $3 million to publicize its curbside
recycling program last year, yet participation continued to lag.

"We get accused of acting as a marketing arm for RecycleBank," Sampson told
the 75 or so people who attended the forum. "We're not, but we do believe in
incentive-based recycling, and no one else is doing it."

In the meantime, Joan Hicken took over as Philadelphia recycling coordinator
last week. Hicken had served since 1999 as recycling coordinator for
Glendale, Ariz., a city with a population of about 225,000.

Evan Belser, program organizer for Clean Water Action, credits Hicken with
leading "a very successful" curbside program in Glendale. "She built it from
the ground up," he adds, noting that Glendale recently achieved about a 19
percent recycling rate.

"We're very excited to have Joan coming on board. She's going to bring a lot
of knowledge and experience to our city," Buenaflor says.

Hicken was one of two candidates for the recycling coordinator position
recommended by Philadelphia's Recycling Advisory Committee. Belser, who
participated in the selection process, says he was impressed with Hicken's
experience developing a recycling program "from its infancy."

"She has no misconception of the challenges awaiting her arrival," he says.
As local environmentalists turn up their efforts to publicize RecycleBank,
Streets Department commissioner Clarena Tolson is countering with her own
public outreach. At the Philadelphia Flower Show last Thursday she
demonstrated how to incorporate recycled materials into gardening.

"As an added bonus," according to a press release issued by Tolson's office,
she offered "beautification tips" by explaining how to transform old tires
into flower planters and how to create "garden lighting from plastic

David Biddle <>

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