Who knew that aluminum cans, old newspapers and empty plastic bottles could be worth so much money?
Customers of hauler Waste Management who live in Bluffton and Sun City Hilton Head are competing in a recycling contest with a grand prize of $100,000 -- so until the competition ends Dec. 31, an empty soda bottle might be worth its weight in gold.
The SC Johnson Green Choices Recycling Challenge is a contest that aims to increase household recycling participation in 50 communities across the United States. The community with the most reported recycling -- measured as an average number of tons recycled per household and total online participation -- will receive a $100,000 grant from SC Johnson for a local sustainability project.
"I nominated Bluffton and Sun City to represent South Carolina because both are very environmentally proactive. I knew they would be good candidates," said Russell Hightower, spokesman for Waste Management.
The winning community will be announced in January. If Sun City and Bluffton win, the prize will be split between them based on population, contest officials have said. Neither has chosen a project to fund if they win.
All 5,100 homes in Bluffton have curbside recycling by Waste Management; residential recycling is one of the services paid for with homeowners' tax money. Of the about 7,200 households in Sun City, 3,604 are Waste Management customers, Sun City officials said.
The contest kicks off a partnership with Recyclebank, a company that rewards people for their recycling efforts with points towards discounts and deals.
The points accumulate in the customer's online account, and customers who log their recycling activity at least once a month count toward the contest totals. To earn discount coupons at Olive Garden and other businesses, customers must log their recycling activity once a week.
Sun City resident Billye Liberatore recently began logging her recycling progress on Recyclebank's website. Each week, she gets an email asking her if she's recycled, and when she answers "yes," Recyclebank calculates her points earned. Though she admits she's "not much into the points thing," Liberatore says that she's excited to see a concerted, incentivized environmental effort that Sun City residents can get involved in.
At Hickory Hill landfill in Ridgeland, Waste Management during the contest will weigh the total tonnage collected on each truck's route and divide by the number of households on the route to determine the average amount of recycling collected per home, Hightower said. Food and other residues can contaminate loads of recycling; he said that Bluffton and Sun City customers do a good job of rinsing their recycling and have a low rate of contamination.
Ron Olson, facilities coordinator for Bluffton, recently spoke to members of the Old Town Bluffton Merchants association to ask for their support in the contest. Several business owners agreed to hang posters about the competition in their shops. None of their businesses have curbside recycling now, but all at the meeting said they'd like to have it.
The town of Bluffton is getting the word out about the contest through its website and mailings; in Sun City, it's being promoted through the community's weekly electronic newsletter and on Sun City TV News.