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Rewards = More Consumption: Questions about MyGRcitypoints

March 24, 2011

Beginning in late April, the City of Grand Rapids will offer a new incentive program to increase recycling and citizen engagement.

The program is called My GR City Points and it includes two partnering entities, CEOs for Cities and Local First. The first phase of the program will kick in around Earth Day and it is designed to reward people who participate in the City’s recycling program. If you register with the City your recycle bin number, every time the City picks up the bin you get points. These “points” can then be redeemed at local businesses where you can get a discount on products or with enough points not have to spend a cent.

Sounds pretty good, right? Well, before we get all excited about home many free coffees we can get because we are doing our part to save the planet, let’s take a moment to think a bit about what this all means.

People who have studied the policies and practices of recycling acknowledge that recycling in general is problematic. This is not to say that we shouldn’t recycle, it means that recycling as it is generally practiced in the US doesn’t really address the root of the problem, only one of the symptoms of the problem.

The problem is that as a society we generate entirely too much waste. Author Heather Rogers, in her book Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, talks about how there was a major shift after WWII in the manufacturing sector to create more packaging for products. This shift in generating waste became a huge problem for municipalities and when there were efforts to put pressure on manufacturers to reduce packaging waste the manufacturing industry pushed back.

The National Association of Manufacturers lobbied hard to defeat any restrictions on how companies packaged their products. In addition, they began a major campaign called Keep America Beautiful, which put the emphasis on personal responsibility for disposing of waste and diverting attention from those who manufactured it.

Not all countries have gone that route and there are numerous European countries that engage in what they call source point waste reduction. In this model consumers can bring unwanted packaging back to the store they bought it from so that the retailer has to deal with the problem, which puts pressure on the manufacturers and retailers instead of the consumer. This actually provides a major incentive for reduced packaging.

However, these examples are still an inadequate response to the problem. The real problem is over consumption, particularly in countries like the US where the average person consumes 40 times more than most people in developing countries.

This over consumption brings us back to the My GR City Points program. People will now be rewarded with the opportunity to consume more if they recycle more. Let’s rephrase that. People will be encourage to consume more, thus creating more waste, if they recycle some of the waste.

It seems that such a program inherently does not seek to push the two other components of the 3 R’s  – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. As a society, we really need to reduce the amount of waste we generate and reuse resources as often as possible. Think of all the energy used in recycling programs – plastic bins that are manufactured, fossil fuel energy used to make the bins, trucks to pick the material up, fossil fuels burned to transport the trucks, energy used to sort and recycle the material at recycling facilities, energy used to melt plastic down for reusing in some other form for more consumer goods.

Again, the point here is to raise questions about what such an incentive plan will do. Recycle when you can, but more importantly lets consume less and put the responsibility of waste generation on those who manufacture it instead of offering an incentive program which encourages people to create more waste.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2011 2:23 pm

    Thanks for writing this, Jeff. I’m in the process of un-subscribing from the program. Not only for the reasons you mention above, but also to simplify my life a bit.
    ~~~F. Gentile

  2. henry walker permalink
    April 21, 2011 9:09 pm

    would like toenter

  3. henry walker permalink
    April 21, 2011 9:10 pm

    would like to enter

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