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OFFBEAT: Find a way to make Green pay

Annie Zelm • Apr 19, 2010 at 2:18 AM


Assistant news editor, Sandusky Register

Sandusky just got a little greener -- and I'm not talking about the trees in Washington Park.

The city finally has a preliminary plan to offer drop-off sites and curbside recycling for its residents.

That means the main excuse I've used for the past few years just got thrown out with the trash.

Whenever we have guests over, I find myself apologizing profusely for (gasp) not recycling.

I've tried to justify my environmental unfriendliness in a number of ways.

"Well, we don't drink pop or use many cans..."

"Plus, we refill those plastic water bottles for months at a time, which also saves money."

Although the three R's -- reduce, reuse, recycle -- were drilled into my head all through grade school, my family didn't follow that motto, so it never became a habit.

Sure, saving the Earth for our children's children is a noble cause, but it's hard to stick with something when you don't see a tangible impact. Even doing good for its own sake usually comes with some benefit -- for instance, the feeling of raising money for a worthy cause or the appreciation that comes from volunteering.

I never got that same warm, fuzzy feeling when hauling a bunch of sticky, fly-covered cans in my car.

The promise of curbside recycling is a leap in the right direction to encourage more people like me to get on the ball.

Similar programs have resulted in a 40-50 percent increase in recycling tonnage, said Lisa Beursken, coordinator for the Erie County Solid Waste District.

Beursken said the county's recycling rate among residents was about 20 percent in 2007, the last time the numbers were crunched. (Businesses in the area do a much better job, with rates at about 90 percent.)

The Ohio EPA wants to see us reach a point where about 25 percent of households recycle. But that still means three out of four aren't jumping on the green wagon. To change that, I think we need to take it one step further.

Rather than just making it more convenient to recycle, let's make it pay.

RecycleBank does that.

This rewards program brags it's more than doubled recycling rates in cities in 21 states across the country and the United Kingdom since it began in 2004, according to its Web site.

Households earn points that can be used to shop in various local and national businesses. Cleaning out your old junk? Schedule a pickup at your home to earn 500 points. You can also collect points by sending in old electronics.

While you can earn points on your own, it's best if a curbside hauler participates.

In Ohio, Allied Waste/Republic Services offers this option to only a few communities, including Amherst, Avon and Sheffield.

Everyone receives a cart with a chip embedded to track how much each household recycles by weight.

Perkins Township, which is working toward having curbside recycling available by early next year, plans to use carts so they could easily incorporate the program later.

Joining the program would be built into the cost of the curbside program, which costs much less than most people pay for trash hauling. In Huron, residents pay $55 per quarter for weekly curbside pickup and yard waste hauling.

Sandusky residents will soon have a curbside recycling option as well, depending on who hauls their trash.

If their hauler doesn't offer it, they can pay a fee of $8-10 a month for the extra service. It doesn't appear the city will embrace a one-hauler contract anytime soon too, even though it would cut costs for everyone.

The city has at least a dozen haulers, many of which are small-scale operations, and officials have repeatedly said they don't want to eliminate jobs.

Whether they eventually consolidate the services or not, the city should embrace curbside recycling and seriously consider partnering with RecycleBank.

Annie Zelm is the assistant news editor of the Sandusky Register.

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