Friday Favorites: Financial Incentives to Recycle


Traveling across the U.S., one encounters subtle (and sometimes glaring) cultural differences between cities. We all fall under the great American umbrella, which makes some of these differences a bit more difficult to put into words. Of course, read any comments section on a travel article dedicated to someone’s hometown, (*ahem*) and you’ll find a blood bath of conflicting views on whether Jane Smith’s city was rep’ed accurately, or whether some “snobby east coaster” or a “friendly midwesterner” really knows what they are talking about.

I find the comments sections—and more to the point, the dialogue—on observations between places incredibly fascinating and entertaining. After visiting NYC to scout out schools, my sister said simply “I hate it; it’s dirty.” Meanwhile a friend of mine from the UK came back from her New York trip wide-eyed and in love.

Impressions aside, one attitude I’ve noticed changes vastly between communities is on the matter of recycling. Having faced lies and convoluted infrastructure, many Chicagoans couldn’t care less whether their beer bottles land in a blue bin or a black one—it could be because recycling isn’t a priority, or because they don’t believe their efforts are making a difference (and who could blame them?).

By contrast, when I visited San Francisco, I noticed eateries from coffee shops to sandwich shacks had separate bins for compost in addition to the standard glass, paper and plastic. The numbers reveal results: about 75 percent of waste in SF is diverted from the landfill. While multiple factors can influence cultural attitudes, I was most curious about the City’s role in cultivating smaller landfills.

This week’s edition focuses on financial incentives from around the world levied to encourage recycling.

Neustadt an der Weinstrasse

From product manufacturing to trash separation, Germans do not mess around when it comes to recycling. In Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, over 70 percent of waste is recycled, following suit with Germany’s national average. The high rate is ostensibly due to costs incurred for leaving out non-recyclable waste. A 5.30 Euro ($6.40*)  fee is charged for the smallest garbage can for regular waste, and 6.60 Euros ($7.90) for the next size up. For the largest sized bin, the fee rises to 24 Euros ($28.80).

And this trash is only collected once every twenty days. Fear not for these Germans with huge piles of garbage rotting in their yards though—garbage collection for recyclable garbage and compost is frequent—and free. I know what you’re thinking: what if there is a rager due to Neustadt a. d. Weinstr’s membership as a town in the Palatinate wine-growing region? Special 60 liter sacks can be purchased—for 3 Euros ($3.60) each—and left outside for collection.

Interesting, too, that large projects producing a lot of (non-recyclable) debris carry their own charges: 5 Euros ($6.00) per 100kg (220 lbs). We’re thinking they must have a very popular ReBuilding Exchange.

Wilmington, Delaware

In Wilmington, officials have taken a different approach. There aren’t penalties for waste collection, but instead rewards for participating in the city’s recycling program. A company called Recyclebank is in charge of pick-up, which is then weighed and residents are awarded with a certain amount of cash per pound.

Bern Switerland


Ok, it’s not a city, but at just 15,942 square feet about 237 Switzerlands could fit inside the U.S.A. The country has an overall approach to recycling similar to Neustadt a. d. Weinstr. in that they motivate with penalties, not rewards for good behavior, though there are regional differences. Recycling is free for Swiss homes, but bags filled with regular trash have to bear a sticker, which cost about 1 Euro ($1.20) each. Failing to mark a bag with a sticker comes with a nasty penalty: the garbage is passed over at collection time, left instead to rot until it’s carried away by feral cats—or the household relinquishes and gets the stickers; whichever comes first.

*Euros were multiplied by approximate exchange rate at the time; values are approximate.
**Images that requested attribution link to their source in the alt texts.