City proposes recycling rewards

Sean Fraga/contributing photographer
Among the changes, the current system for sorting recyclable material will be dropped in favor of an unsorted system.
Sean Fraga/contributing photographer Among the changes, the current system for sorting recyclable material will be dropped in favor of an unsorted system. Photo by Sanjena Sathian.

A new city program may allow Yale off-campus students to receive coupons for donuts or vitamins starting next year.

Under the new initiative, on which the Board of Aldermen will vote Thursday, city officials and members of a partner organization, RecycleBank, would attach tracking devices to garbage trucks and recycling bins to gather information about community recycling habits. This information would help city officials to determine which residents are recycling better than others and provide these citizens with coupons to places such as CVS or Dunkin’ Donuts.

City officials said they hope these incentives could increase New Haven’s recycling rate from 9 percent, which Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar said is much lower than some major cities across the nation. They also said the new recycling program would help the city save hundreds of thousands of dollars within the next few years.

“People who recycle are always going to recycle,” John Prokop, New Haven’s director of public works, said. “What we’re trying to do is target pockets of the city that historically don’t think about [recycling]. They just throw everything into the garbage drain.”

CJ Mays, Yale’s recycling coordinator, said the new city initiative will encourage Yale off-campus students to be more environmentally friendly and may influence University recycling policies.

City officials said they modeled the project after similar initiatives in other cities. At a City Plan Commission meeting last month, Lemar called New Haven’s recycling rate “abysmal” compared to New York’s 24 percent rate and San Francisco’s 56 percent rate. Prokop said RecycleBank officials have used recycling models to estimate that the city’s rate will increase to 28 percent from 9 percent with the new recycling program.

Currently, the New Haven Department of Public Works picks up recycling curbside from residential units and requires residents to sort items into three separate sections: plastics, newspapers and corrugated cardboard. The new system, on the other hand, allows plastics, newspapers and glass to all be placed together.

Residents will no longer place all recyclable trash in the 96-gallon trash can they currently use, while placing other types of trash in new 45-gallon containers. Instead, on recycling pickup days, garbage trucks with on-board computer systems and tracking devices will record how much each resident is recycling. In return for increased recycling, RecycleBank officials will reward residents with coupons.

Through the program, New Haven households can expect to receive $15-20 worth of coupons, Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 said.

City officials will also save money by implementing the program, they said, because the program encourages more recycling and decreases the amount of trash. Smuts said city officials save $104 when they collect one ton of recyclable waste instead one ton of trash.

According to the city’s 10-year contract with RecycleBank, there will be no immediate costs for city officials to implement the new recycling system. City officials will not pay anything for the first five years, and will pay the company a flat fee of 50 cents per household per month, or, in total, $205,000 a year, Smuts said. Still, if the initiative is successful, Smuts added, city officials will save money because the program would the city will save roughly $650,000 even after paying RecycleBank.

Still, some local recycling experts said more could be done. Yale recycling coordinator C.J. May said that although East Coast recycling experts consider New Haven’s program “experimental,” it is standard procedure in California. May added that California’s program is more comprehensive because it includes collecting food and compost waste. In contrast, he said, Connecticut has only one recycling facility for organic material, making such an initiative difficult to start in New Haven or at Yale.

May said the new system has both benefits and costs that may affect the University’s decision about whether to follow the city’s lead in switching recycling methods.

“There can be some increased efficiencies and benefits for the average Yalie, who might find recycling in one bin simpler than in separate bins,” he said. “But there are concerns still in the industry about whether [the new program] leads to greater contamination, making it harder to separate.”

Both Prokop and May noted that off-campus students will be affected by the change. May said some of these students currently have no place to recycle because city workers do not collect from housing units with more than six residents.

“In May, students just dump their stuff on the curb, … but it’s not our responsibility to pick [it] up,” Prokop said. “We want to work with landlords and property managers so there are no complains about illegal dumping.”

If the Board of Aldermen approve the program, Lemar said, city officials will start it by next April. Currently, the city recycles 4,500 tons of recyclable trash each year.

Comments

  • ydn is fun

    this seems kinda cool. but i dont really feel comfortable signing up for anything “experimental.” it seems setup like a get rich quick scheme:

    “According to the city’s 10-year contract (RB just started in ’04) … there will be no immediate costs (lure?) …and will pay… in total, $205,000 a year (2 million! maybe CT’s taxpayers don’t mind?) …If (unprecedented!) the initiative is successful…the city will save roughly $650,000 even after paying RecycleBank.”

    “People who recycle are always going to recycle,” JP – this isnt necessarily true. at home, i recycle because it’s easy (and my little brother drags it to the curb). but i really dont do it here because its awkward to carry that big blue bin, and my box of paper, and my bag of actual trash down 5 flights of stairs, esp. when i have to do laundry too. (sorry…)

    maybe during a war isnt the best time for this relatively trivial experiment (compared with what’s going on in the middle east)? i bet if STEP thought about it (they seem to have good ideas and hearts for the earth) Yale (off campus too) could start to solve the problem for free with clever sidewalk chalk (not flyers) around town or something. maybe reorganize yale’s collection method? not to sound radical, but why not ignore this for now to focus more on homelessness and education? (the homeless in cali cant really freeze to death, but ours can! …we can’t really compare ourselves to a state so far away).

  • Yale 08

    Donuts for recycling? Has Homer Simpson moved into town or is this really the most effective way to encourage recycling habits?