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Citywide Partners Help Bridgeport Become Cleaner, Greener
Using Single Stream, Rewards Doubles City's Recycling Tonnage in First Six Months

By Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch
May 14, 2012

When I first proposed that our city switch to single stream recycling, my plan was met with a bit of resistance. The prevailing thought was that it would be difficult to get all of our residents to "buy-in" to the concept since our recycling numbers were so low. A few months later, in partnership with Recyclebank, our recycling rewards partner, we developed a pilot program for approximately 5,000 households in the East Side and East End of the city, an area with a high concentration of low-to-moderate income households, some with a language barrier. Working together, we created a grassroots marketing and outreach program meant to touch every homeowner and encourage their participation.

Numbers slowly crept up, and six months later, we saw a definite upward trend that led us to believe that moving to single stream would be a success. Multi-family households were now recycling more – putting more items in the "blue bin" and less in our green garbage Toter® every week. Participation in the rewards program was catching on – so much so, that residents in other parts of the city would stop me at events to ask, "When are we getting the big blue recycling carts?"

We rolled out our single stream program in September 2011. Each household in the city received a big blue Toter® recycling cart with instructions about what could, and could not, go into the "blue bin."

Prior to moving to single stream recycling, city residents could only place acceptable plastic containers – those labeled with a "1" or a "2," cans, and bottles into the 14-gallon recycling bin, along with a newspapers bundled in a paper bag and placed on top of the bin. Single stream simplified the recycling process for our residents, and expanded the variety of items that could be placed in the much larger Toter® recycling cart. Residents can now place all plastic food containers numbered "1" through "7," cereal boxes, milk and juice cartons, junk mail, and newspaper into the recycling cart – no need to sort, bundle or tie.

In two months, our numbers were up by about 50 percent. At the six-month mark, our citywide recycling rates are up nearly 100 percent. The city has collected more than 1,100 tons of recycling YoY, an average of 157 tons more per month compared to the same time period in 2010. And, our streets are cleaner, too!

Our partnership with Recyclebank, which was just recognized by Fast Company as one of the "50 Most Innovative Companies in the World," made all the difference once we made our decision to go forward with single stream recycling. In an urban setting, it's sometimes difficult to get homeowners and apartment dwellers to latch on to a new concept. In addition to the usual media outreach, we worked together with Recyclebank to execute a grassroots campaign, meeting the consumer – our residents – at the supermarket, the corner store and at their place of worship, to talk about the benefits of recycling. At every venue, we caught their attention by talking about how increasing the amount we recycle helps the city save money, and ultimately, make the air we breathe cleaner because we burn less trash. When they heard the message, and understood they would be rewarded for their actions with a host of coupons for local and national retailers – well, they were hooked.

Our outreach efforts continue. Our goal is to have 100-percent of the eligible households signed up with Recyclebank. This past February, we teamed up with students at Blackham School in the city's North End to launch a "recycling challenge." For each new recycling registration, Recyclebank donated $1 to Blackham School. The money will be used to purchase school supplies and other items for use by the Blackham School Green Team, a group of 7th and 8th grade students led by teacher Chris Kinsley. The Green Team members are learning about recycling and energy conservation in class and putting their newfound knowledge to work overseeing the school's recycling efforts.

At the kickoff event, the school's front entrance was covered in posters created by students to convey the importance of recycling. The Green Team students helped Kinsley coach the younger students at the school, encouraging them to become more conscious of the environment.

In all, this was a win-win-win effort. Blackham wins by earning money for school supplies. The city wins by increasing recycling rates in the community, increasing residents- awareness of ‘green actions- and helping them earn reward points for recycling efforts. Recyclebank wins by adding new registered members.

Increasing our recycling rates is one of the goals I proposed when I initiated our city's BGreen 2020 effort. BGreen 2020 is a public-private partnership, which aims to put Bridgeport on a path to being the cleanest, greenest city in New England. In addition to increasing our recycling rates, BGreen 2020 is also focused on creating green jobs, reducing our energy costs, lowering our carbon footprint and educating our residents on the benefits of living a greener lifestyle.

For more information, contact Elaine K. Ficarra at 203-576-7931.