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Posted on Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : noon

Recycling rewards program to end Aug. 31; city to use savings on commercial recycling

By Amy Biolchini

Aug. 31 will be the last day for Ann Arbor residents to earn reward points as an incentive for recycling, as the city ends its contract with Recyclebank.

Residents who recycle are rewarded with points from Recyclebank that are redeemable at retail outlets and restaurants. The program was offered to residents living in single-family homes and duplexes, but was not available to people living in apartment complexes and condominiums.

The Ann Arbor City Council decided to nix its contract with Recyclebank after the increased tonnages of recyclables weren’t as high as expected.

Recycling pickup schedules in the city will continue as usual after Aug. 31. People with Recyclebank points will still be able to redeem them at businesses and restaurants after the cutoff date.

The city is currently paying Recyclebank $103,500 to operate the rewards program. Future cost-savings from the elimination of Recyclebank will be put toward the city’s commercial recycling program - which will be greatly expanded in 2013, said Tom McMurtrie, the city's solid waste coordinator.

The city mandated several years ago that businesses within its jurisdiction implement a recycling program.


File photo |

Within the next year, Recycle Ann Arbor will be working to sign up every business for bins and set a collection schedule, said Kendra Pyle, senior recycling coordinator for Recycle Ann Arbor.

Currently, three out of the city’s seven recycling trucks are automated, and the plan is to buy four automated trucks to complete the fleet, McMurtrie said.

“The next year, starting Sept. 1, will be the telling year,” McMurtrie said. “It will tell us whether Recyclebank had an impact … If the numbers are stagnant after Sept. 1, that would indicate that Recyclebank wasn’t having much of an impact.”

But McMurtrie said he expects to see a 5 percent to 10 percent decrease in the number of tons of recycleables after the removal of Recyclebank.

Ending its contract early with the company will cost the city $90,000 in an equipment purchase settlement and $17,200 for 60 days of contractual notice.

Last year, the city re-negotiated its contract with Recyclebank to pay $50,000 less per year with the same services provided.

A consultant study had predicted 18,425 tons of recyclables for fiscal year 2010-11 would be collected, but the actual number was closer to 10,800 tons. The study was based on the experience of other communities with the Recyclebank program and single-stream recycling systems, McMurtrie said.

In July 2010, the city of Ann Arbor’s recycling system underwent a transformation to a single-stream operation, meaning all materials are placed in the same container on the curb for collection.

Two months later, at the beginning of September 2010, the city signed on to the Recyclebank incentive program.


Tom McMurtrie

Ryan J. Stanton |

To gauge Recyclebank’s effectiveness, McMurtrie said, the city’s single-stream recycling program should have been implemented for a year before adding Recyclebank as an incentive.

Pyle said she believes the impact on recycling from eliminating the Recyclebank service will be minimal because of the strong environmental ethic of many Ann Arbor residents.

“I think the single stream had a big influence on the amount of recycling because it’s easier,” Pyle said.

Since the city’s switch to single-stream recycling, recycling rates in the city increased by 24 percent and trash tonnages have been reduced by 10 percent.

The number of recycling carts deployed as part of the single-stream program also turned out to be 9.2 percent lower than initial projections that anticipated 32,779 carts being deployed.

City officials have said over-projections and subsequent shortfalls in collections after the implementation of the Reyclebank program left a $337,527 hole in Recycle Ann Arbor's budget this past year.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Samantha D.

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 1:04 a.m.

I really enjoyed the Recycle Bank Rewards Program. In my household I was able to use our points for magazine subscriptions to many popular magazines and also for coupons to the compost center. I received a weekly email from them telling me the new balance of my points and also included many other ways to earn points that I participated in. I am sad to see this program go and I am even more sad that so many people did not use it to the full extent.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 2:36 a.m.

Well, I appreciate that Sabra commented on the discussion, with the goal of helping us understand how the contract was set up. I wish other council members would do the same for other articles involving city government decisions.

Wystan Stevens

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 5:49 p.m.

I signed up for the program right from the start -- after which I never heard another word from RecycleBank. Nor have I ever received a single one of their legendary coupons, although I recycle religiously (i.e., while dressed in a monk's hood, and humming a Gregorian Chant . . .).


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 9:38 a.m.

The mayor seems quiet...

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 10:40 a.m.

He's busy giving First Ward candidate Eric Sturgis campaign tips perhaps?

David Cahill

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 1:21 a.m.

Oop! Sorry. The comment about the junk e-mails was posted by me, not by Sabra. We use the same computer on weekends.

Sabra C Briere

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 1:18 a.m.

One glitch in the shutdown of this program: I signed up for Recyclebank but never used it. Several weeks ago I started getting regular e-mails from these folks saying that they would continue to send me updates. According to these e-mails, there is no way to stop these unwanted "updates". Can the City do something to stop these junk e-mails?


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 9:38 a.m.

The company MUST allow you to unsubscribe. If they do not, file a CAN-SPAM complaint against them. You should also be able to setup a rule within your email program to flag the email by sender or subject and delete it when it arrives.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 12:56 a.m.

Recycling should be a process for waste handlers, not the "feel good" resident.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 11:38 p.m.


Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 9:21 p.m.

"Within the next year, Recycle Ann Arbor..." Translation:Recycle Ann Ann Arbor, big political supports of the Mayor, and who've enjoy multimillion dollar no bid contracts in the past with little or no oversight from local media, get their paws on yet another cash cow.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 9:18 p.m.

"Had the contract been cancelled in May of 2011, the penalty would have been larger. Were the Council to have continued the contract for another year, the penalty would have been eliminated, but the company would have received the payment." Who negotiated this for the City? Have they been fired yet? Guess it's all play Monopoly money when if comes to the taxpayers?

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 9:16 p.m.

So in other words, we overpaid for the original contract, it lasted one extra year because it was so poorly negotiated there were no escape clause other than just paying for the final year regardless if the service worked or provided any defined results and now a City official is telling us AFTER the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of wasted dollars how the original contract and plan were flawed to now explain the failure. Beautiful.

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 10:39 a.m.

"It might be worth it to you, Alan, to watch the video of each of these meetings." Though I think if there is a hell, it might include being forced to watch endless replays of Ann Arbor City Council meetings, I'll make my best effort to click on the links to see if I can get a better understanding of your argument. "I understand that most contracts have penalties for early withdrawal." I hope I'm not introducing you or the City to this concept but most contracts in the real world DON'T have penalties for early withdrawal--they are called 'option years' where you set a contract for a year or two and have the 'option' to pick up future years. Tell me City negotiators know this--please.

Sabra C Briere

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 2:02 a.m.

And here's a link to the coverage in the Chronicle:

Sabra C Briere

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 1:59 a.m.

So, here's a link to the agenda item (March 15, 2010) approving the contract with RecycleBank *as part of* the single-stream recycling program: There was a 3-year period in this resolution before the Council was supposed to assess its affect. The Council didn't wait that long, having heard from residents that the program was *not* a success. The Council considered eliminating RecycleBank, but was informed by staff that cancelling the contract would be a bad idea. The Council considered a resolution directing the staff to amend the contract on August 4, 2011: but postponed the vote until 9/19/2011. The Council again considered the resolution directing the staff to amend the contract (having learned that terminating the contract would cause problems for the City) on 9/19/2011: On 11/10/11, the Council amended the contract with RecycleBank, changing the terms and decreasing the payment to RecycleBank, setting it up so they could earn more if recycling showed a significant increase. It might be worth it to you, Alan, to watch the video of each of these meetings. I understand that most contracts have penalties for early withdrawal. The original proposal to terminate the contract, in August, 2011, stated: "Under Section XIII, "Termination of Agreement", RecycleRewards will be entitled to $120,000.00 as the depreciated costs of the equipment that was installed in recycling trucks as part of this program. RecycleRewards also has claimed that it is entitled to an additional amount up to $80,000.00 due to the timing of the cancellation. " I encourage you to watch the videos of each me

Rita Mitchell

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 7:43 p.m.

"Since the city's switch to single-stream recycling, recycling rates in the city increased by 24 percent and trash tonnages have been reduced by 10 percent." The combined rates of recycling and trash tonnages are what tell the whole story of success/failure of the solid waste operations. It is possible that recycling tonnage will decrease in the next year, due to clearing out the back-log of plastics that can now be included in the single stream. I ask that the city provide both pieces of information when assessing recycling. A great outcome would be reduced recycling tonnage AND reduced trash tonnage, indicating that people are actually reducing the amount of materials that go through the solid waste system.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:28 p.m.

The recyclebank program was a complete waste of money and should never have been instituted. We have many points racked up and have only spent a few because there are hardly any worthwhile rewards. We recycled before the program and will continue to recycle after it is long gone. I find it hard to believe that anyone who didn't recycle before has started to recycle because of the so called rewards.

Sabra C Briere

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:25 p.m.

Last December the Council considered eliminating RecycleBank. Although there were members of Council who were convinced that coupons brought significant incentives to encourage recycling, other members of Council were not enthusiastic. However, the budget for the year was set (the vote took place about six months earlier) and the one legal reason to break the contract would have been if the budget didn't include RecycleBank funding. Members of Council agreed to give RecycleBank several more months to show a significant increase in recycling that could be attributed solely to the incentive program. Such a change did not occur. Had the contract been cancelled in May of 2011, the penalty would have been larger. Were the Council to have continued the contract for another year, the penalty would have been eliminated, but the company would have received the payment. By cancelling the contract this year -- and by putting no dollars in the budget for the contract -- the City broke even. It will not pay the contracted fee; the amount of penaly is almost equal to the fee that would have been paid. I think this was a prudent decision by the City Council, but then again, I sponsored the budget amendment. Sabra Briere

Sabra C Briere

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

Penalty. This system would benefit from a spelling/grammer button, but then, so would I.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

"To gauge Recyclebank's effectiveness, McMurtrie said, the city's single-stream recycling program should have been implemented for a year before adding Recyclebank as an incentive. " No kidding? That's logic 101. It was irresponsible to implement both programs virtually simultaneously. Whoever made that decision should be given a new job description that doesn't involve forethought.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

RecycleBank thanks TaxpayerBank (led by Hieftje et al) for yet another payday for doing absolutely nothing. . . Council had a chance a year ago to ditch this scam for $0, but they didn't. Not a whole lot of wisdom in that bunch. . .


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

It's not a scam, just a bad financial deal. I recycle every week, and I got a $10 gift card out of Walmart. Could hav eleft the deal last year and city would be over $100,000 richer


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 6:25 a.m.

how is it a scam? I've saved plenty of money using the site.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

A $100,000 payoff to get rid of the loser program? A sweet arrangement for them, and a terrible deal for the taxpayers. Any chance we could recover some of that from the "consultants" who overestimated the tonnage by 80%? So who out there in the private sector can keep their job if they're off by 80%?