Recycling may be getting easier each year, but let's face it: People are lazy. That's why bottles get thrown into trash bins when recycling bins are a foot away. It's also why technology ends up in landfills, when it could be deconstructed for its perfectly good parts. Four programs are trying to change that by offering armchair environmentalists cold, hard cash to recycle their stuff.
Cell for Cash offers money for an infrequently recycled gadget—your cellphone. Many people get a new cellphone each year. Some leave the old one sitting around their house, and 7 percent just throw it away. Cellphones are full of chemicals that leach into groundwater from landfills. In California, they're considered hazardous waste. Cell for Cash lists hundreds of makes and models of phones. When you find yours, you can request a postage-paid box. Send it back with your phone and charger, and once the company verifies the contents, you'll receive a check. Cell for Cash refurbishes the phones and sells them in developing countries. Not all phones are worth cash, though; many older models are listed on the site as "Free Recycling," which means they have no resale value. My four-year-old Nokia phone, despite being in perfect working condition, will earn me zilch.
Gazelle is a site that offers you cash for any old electronics, from smart phones to laptops to video cameras. Like Cell for Cash, you find your make and model, get a price quote, and ship the gadget to Gazelle for free. Once it's received, Gazelle evaluates the condition of the item, strips your personal data from it, and mails you a check. Once your gadget is refurbished, it's resold or recycled responsibly. I searched the list for my fourth-generation iPod, which has been sitting in my desk drawer collecting dust. Even though it is in poor physical condition, the site offered me 30 bucks for it. Tech items that aren't pictured in the database can still be submitted for a price quote.
This one's still in the works, but a recent New York Times article by Alan Blinder outlined the plan of Cash for Clunkers. Old cars with poor environmental ratings could be traded in for cash and then scrapped and taken off the marker. Blinder thinks the plan would reduce income inequality, since old, scrappy cars are usually the property of the lowest earners, and would stimulate the economy while keeping the worst-polluting cars off the road. The idea is being tested in California, Texas, and British Columbia.
Finally, RecycleBank gives you money in the form of coupons and gift certificates for grocery and pharmacy items for simply recycling your bottles, cans, and paper at home. The program has been up and running in communities in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Nebraska, Maine, and New Jersey and will expand to Minneapolis and Dallas next, RecycleBank CEO Ron Gonen says. Each household in a RecycleBank area receives a bin with a computer chip in it. The household then fills the bin with paper, glass, plastic and metal—no sorting needed—and sets the bin on the curb. When the recycling is collected, an arm on the truck weighs the bin and uses the computer chip to record the weight. The data is added to an online account, and customers can log in to redeem their points each month for coupons and gift certificates.
"We generally see about a 100 percent increase in recycling in mid- to affluent neighborhoods," says Gonen. "In lower-income neighborhoods, it can be up to 1,000 percent, because the recycling rates are so low there.
"If you think about solar or wind power or buying a hybrid, they're very important, but today they're not something that's accessible to the average person," he said. "I look at recycling as the average thing that every person and household can do."
Especially if it puts cash in your pockets.