Converting waste into currency

Never did I imagine the day would come when I would see a payment term defined as “cards, cash or cans,” but after some research, I learned several countries are finding success with similar recycling programs focused on converting waste to currency, credits or products.

In Stockholm, McDonald’s — in partnership with advertising agency DDB Stockholm — devised a campaign that cleverly encourages young people to care for the environment by collecting enough cans to fill up a bag for free burgers. The bags are attached to strategically placed billboards in areas young people congregate, and for 10 cans the recycler earns a hamburger or cheeseburger while 40 cans will buy a Big Mac!

In Sydney and Beijing, the ultra-low recycling rate has improved with machines encouraging people to feed them with used plastics. In exchange, recyclers can win bus-trip vouchers and movie tickets in Sydney while in Beijing, the prize is free transit passes.

Within the first three days of installing machines in Sydney, more than 10,000 plastic containers were collected. Now Beijing has implemented a formal initiative being carried out at 34 different stations that credits a recycler’s pass or transit account in exchange for their recycled donations.

In Osaki, Japan (located in the Miyagi Prefecture), the membership-only Methane Café takes the consciousness of recycling one step further. Instead of paying for a hot drink, the café requires members or potential new members to bring as much kitchen waste as would fit into an everyday lunchbox to claim one free hot drink. In return, the café will use the biomass energy from these waste products guests donate to boil their cup of tea or to use as fertilizer for their crops.

Each week I am amazed at how consumers are becoming more aware of how their habits really do affect the environment. Reinforcing positive perceptions of any trend or newfound behavior can be a monumental and long-term task, but I hope this week’s recycling trend may very well convert those in doubt of any such change in behavior.

The Frankfurt Airport opted to take a charitable approach to its recycling bank machines allowing travelers to donate the proceeds from their recycled can or bottle to a charity of their choosing. With three charities supported (the World Wildlife Fund, a local food bank and an air-based charity that provides humanitarian aid), should donors not pick a charity, then funds are automatically sent to the WWF. It’s also a great way to introduce children to recycling and the significance of giving back, as well as reminding travelers to conform to security regulations such as dispensing water bottles before entering security. After all, it’s harder to argue with airport security rules when they’re enforced in the name of charity!

What is your property doing to reinforce the ongoing, proactive push to improve recycling? Are you using machinery or cleverly derived campaigns? Any thoughts on or takers for a donation-for-room-nights campaign?