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.