Annals of Greenwash: Recyclebank

wolfsheep Recycling is the capitalist’s favorite (and only) green idea. It obliterates the question of what gets produced in the first place and points the finger at the end, rather than the beginning, of the product life cycle. It makes the behavior of “consumers,” not capitalists, the topic of concern. It implies that mere gestures are enough.

Hence, it was probably inevitable that some jerk would invent the idea of Recyclebank, the Philadelphia-based Trojan Horse for corporate ecocide.

Here’s how it works: Customers who sign-up with RecycleBank receive a special container embedded with a computer chip. Every time the recycling truck comes for a pickup, it records the weight of the bin and transmits it wirelessly to an online account. Homeowners accrue up to $35 worth of credits a month based on the amount of recycling they do.

The credits, in turn, can be turned into coupons that can be redeemed at more than 300 retailers, including Starbucks, Whole Foods, and Rite Aid. [Source: Forbes]

How green is what Recyclebank does?

First of all, its system pays people more “points” for more mass in the recycling bin, meaning higher overall product-usage rates are encouraged, not discouraged, by Recyclebank.

Of course, how else would its corporate partners — Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Dow Chemical, Target, Home Depot, etc. — have it?

Moreover, despite its condescending and cynical prattle about being “a group of passionate people who’ve made it our mission to inspire others to take action – small to big – that will have a positive impact on our planet,” Recyclebank is also a double shill: It pre-empts both pay-as-you-throw trash programs and bottle bills, the latter undoubtedly one of the reasons why Coca-Cola is a Recyclebank “partner.”

All the while, what do the entrepreneurs running Recyclebank really, truly think about the “consumers” they profess to care so deeply about? The usual:

In fact, advertising is a big piece of [CEO] Gonen’s strategy. As RecycleBank rolls out nationally in the next couple of years – look for a debut in some Manhattan apartment buildings this winter – he’ll have collected the names, addresses and buying habits of hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions of people.

At that point, Recycle Bank will have a database of loyal customers who manage accounts online and can be targeted by advertisers. If nothing else, it should become a place where companies can sell to “green” consumers, says Gonen.

“The core of this company is the ability to target and market to a captive audience that feels good about what they are doing,” he said.

5 Replies to “Annals of Greenwash: Recyclebank”

  1. this isn’t related to the above post, but in the wake of the recent announcement about how Jobs is stepping down as CEO of Apple, a fawning facebook friend posted this wonderful quote from Jobs that I thought you would love:

    “When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.” [Steve Jobs,Wired, February 1996]

  2. md
    i have never understood the trashing of corporate green
    when its actually being green
    recycling may be inconsequential but is it counter green ??
    is it diversionary ??

    the reward by weight gimmick here
    i doubt
    increases waste production ..does it ??

    tpo me the commercialization and corporate domination of greening
    looks like the commercialization of medical services and products

    do we attack the walmart influenza promotion ??

    call me a dunce but i’d continue
    to train my guns
    were they used to be trained

    at the actual corporate browning operations

    what say you ???

  3. Citizen Paine, I take your point, though I would not underestimate the degree to which pre-emption of bottle bills and pay-as-you-throw programs is part of this operation. One could also say that the thing is designed to greenwash its mega-branding “partners” as much as to improve trash sorting habits. In doing that, it deflects attention from the incredible flows of waste in the packaging and line-extending efforts of the former. But I do grant your point. This isn’t the meat of the problem.

    Meanwhile, I thought it was pretty noteworthy that the CEO brags about the whole thing being a data-collection operation. That’s another service to the mega-branders and sellers of commodified paranoia.

  4. Corporate greenwashing is hideous – there’s no defense for it. The corporations should not be allowed to appropriate the “green” label – it is their mad rushing after profits and unregulated extraction that is the direct cause of ecological catastrophe, so to let them also appear to be green-friendly masters of concern – hell no. There is no point to be made by conceding any more turf than these forces already control.
    Recycling is diversionary, absolutely, one of the throw-offs that the makes CEO”s happy, promulgate, and yeah, in a single payer there is no Wal-Mart swooping in to make big profits off flu shots, so why the love for the corporate green? Insult to injury, and that’s OK?
    I’m getting a swell head from all these Gates clones thinking that the key to riches lies in divining the secrets of my buying habits. You really want to have some microchip click up what brand of hummus we bought three weeks ago? That’s a business plan to be proud of?
    Thanks for the great info – another greenwashing joke I’ll steer clear of.

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