Update: First, let's say Racine does NOT have this policy.
But a news story out of Cleveland caught our attention. The city will use computer chips in recycling bins to fine people who don't recycle. The city will track people's use of blue bins. Anyone who does not put their bins out over a long period of time will have their garbage searched for recyclable materials. If more than 10% of the garbage is recyclables, they'll be fined $100.
Read the story here.
An employee from an independent contractor hired to build and distribute Racine's blue recycling bins pushes a stack of bins across the parking lot outside of the city's Public Works building on S. Marquette Street. (Below-right) A bar code on the side of one of Racine's blue carts. (Below left) Bins being unloaded from a truck. (Bottom) Blue recycling carts delivered to homes along Harvey Drive.
Big Garbage is watching - and it could lead to a greener Racine.
Every blue recycling bin being distributed to homes and apartments throughout the city includes an embedded computer chip. The chip will register when a recycling bin is loaded into the truck, creating data for the city on who is recycling and when they're doing it. Each cart also comes with a bar code on the front that is tied to the address it was assigned to.
Such surveillance is common in recycling programs around the country, and there appears to be little opposition to the oversight. If anything, people have benefited from the tracking with the use of incentive programs designed to reward people for recycling.
The most popular incentive program is run by a company named RecycleBank. The company creates a system that weighs how much people recycle and rewards them with coupons or points, which can be redeemed for items.
To get another boost, Jones said, communities generally go in one of two directions. One is a "pay-as-you-throw" system that charges people for the amount of garbage they put out on the curb. The second option is a system that offers something to encourage recycling.
Either system would require installing scales on dump trucks to weigh how much people throw away or recycle. Jones said the city's research found the scales don't work well under repeated use. In Racine, the scales would be used 1,000 times a day, which isn't practical with the given technology, Jones said.
Other communities have found another problem creating incentives for recycling. The scales can't differentiate between cardboard and bricks, meaning clever people can game the system to maximize their rewards without actually recycling. Incentive programs can actually reduce recycling because processing companies throwaway recyclables that are mixed with regular garbage.
More notes on Racine's new recycling program:
* Racine's blue bins allow residents to throw all of their recyclables into a single container without the use of bags. One surprising item you can't recycle: shredded paper. The reason? The shreds clog up the recycling processors' machines, Jones said. So while you can throw office paper and junk mail into the blue bins, you can't throw the same items in if you run them through a paper shredder.
* Distribution of the carts is ahead of schedule, Jones said. The city estimated it would take three weeks to build and deliver about 20,000 carts to city property owners. Now it looks like the company will finish in two weeks. Some city residents, eager to use their new bins, have already set out their recyclables at the curb, Jones said. That's created a few problems for garbage haulers who aren't equipped yet to collect the recyclables. But Jones said he didn't mind that problem. "I can't fault anyone for being eager to use their bins," he said. "It's a good sign."
* Oshkosh has implemented a blue bin recycling program, and now it's in the process of tweaking its ordinances to adjust to the bins. The council is working on an ordinance that will require homeowners to store their bins out of sight from the street. Residents had complained that neighbors were leaving their bins in front of their homes, which was unsightly.