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Incentives will entice people to participate in a program. Before using incentives, consider the lifetime of the incentive – be cautious of putting too much energy into incentives that will expire. These rewards can be used to initiate a behavior or to continue an existing behavior. An incentive can be anything that someone finds valuable. Some examples include high occupancy vehicle lanes which encourage carpooling or getting a five cent discount at the grocery store for bringing your own bag.

Things to Think About When Using Incentives

  • Make sure to pair the incentive with the behavior.
  • Make it visible.
  • Consider the size of the behavior.
  • Look for non-monetary incentives like good PR.

Types of Incentives

Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT):

When implemented, PAYT can effectively reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill and successfully divert recyclable materials from the waste stream. Watch a PAYT overview video here.

Non-monetary Incentives:

The use of award ceremonies, good public relations and promotional items are some inexpensive ways to provide a recycling incentive in your community. Below are some examples of non-monetary incentives used as a mechanism for increasing participation.

In the summer of 2008, DPPEA (now the Division of Environmental Assistance & Customer Service (DEACS)) provided a number of local governments with large quantities of minor league baseball tickets to use as an incentive for recycling. Across the state there was an enthusiastic response to this effort and the message of recycling was actively promoted during this initiative. The state allotted a given amount of tickets to each community which were distributed at the discretion of the various municipalities. The communities then tracked both recycling bin requests as well as recycling questions via e-mail and telephone. Communities had an increase in recycling interest and many of the communities also had visible increases in tonnage. Almost 4,000 tickets were distributed to the participating communities across the state.

Kelly, from Onslow County, discusses the importance of awarding those who help with recycling in her community. Watch this short video about awards.

Kelly and Lisa, from Onslow County, discuss the use of incentives for the high school and college demographic. These incentives include T-shirts, posters and other gifts. Watch this short video about incentives.

Recycling Rewards Program:

You can use a random rewards program to encourage citizens to recycle. This type of reinforcement is the most effective because there is always a hope of winning and people will continue engaging in the behavior. Each week, month or any other time interval, a household is rewarded for its recycling efforts.

The following communities have used the foloowing incentive programs to increase recycling participation.

  • Archdale: The city of Archdale is encouraging households to recycle by randomly awarding $100 to individuals that are shown to be actively participating in recycling initiatives. Since the program has started there has been an increase in participation from 1,000 households to 3,815 households and there has been a reduction of seven percent of solid waste in landfills.
    Contact: D.J. Seneres, Stormwater Program Manager, (336) 431-9141,

  • Asheville: The city of Asheville and Curbside Management Inc. sponsored the "Feed the Bin and Win" contest, which gave away $100 a week for 16 weeks. All residents that were serviced by curbside recycling pickup within the municipality were eligible for the contest. Each week, one enrollment card was randomly drawn and if the selected household had set out recyclable material which met the cities noted guidelines, the resident won $100. If the $100 is not won, the prize rolled over to the next week, giving the next household a chance to win $200.
    Contact: Solid Waste Manager, (828) 259-5857

  • Charlotte: The city of Charlotte partnered with Coke to bring recycling incentives to its community. Informational packets with stickers were sent out to households that are recipients of the curbside recycling program. Households were prompted to place the sticker they received on the outside of their bin so that it was visible from the street. The recycling prize patrol then scanned through the streets to randomly select a household that was actively recycling its products. Winners were rewarded with a $50 Harris Teeter gift card.
    Contact: Cherita Curtis, Public Information Officer, (704) 336-6684,

  • Monroe: Monroe has set up a recycling incentives program which encourages households to have a competitive recycling-to-trash ratio. Started in late 2004, the program awards households with monetary incentives. First place receives $200 and second place is awarded $100. Each month the route eligible to receive the reward rotates to give all citizens a chance to participate. At the end of the month the winner is featured in the local newspaper. At the end of the year a grand prize of $500 is awarded to the household that had the overall highest amount of recycling during the contest.
    Contact: Laurie Purcell, Solid Waste Coordinator, (704) 282-4565 ,

Photo of the city of Monroe's brochure

  • Morehead City: Morehead City has an incentive program where each month 10 addresses are randomly picked from the tax record and checked to see if those residents are recycling. The first one "caught" recycling is awarded a $50 cash voucher that is credited toward their solid waste bill. At the end of each year all the monthly winners' names are placed into a hat. One is drawn to receive a $500 cash prize awarded by Waste Industries. Only those residents who participate in the city's roll out cart collection service, which includes curbside recycling, are eligible for the "Recycling Rewards" program.
    Contact: Graham Strother, Public Works Director, (252) 726-6848,

  • Statesville: In 2009, Statesville set up an incentive program that encouraged households to participate in recycling. All contest entries were put into a drawing and each Monday, an entry was chosen and given to the recycling staff. The program had been formulated so that the addresses are not announced ahead of time. If the residents at that address were caught recycling on that week, they won $100.
    Contact: Scott Harrell, Solid Waste Director, 704-878-3551,

  • Winston Salem: Residents living in single-family households served by the city's curbside recycling program were eligible for the "Feed the Bin and Win" contest. Each week, one enrollment form was drawn and if that person's recycling was out by the curb (following the recycling guidelines), they won $100. If the person's card that is drawn had not recycled that week, or their recyclables did not meet the guidelines, the amount was rolled over and the next week's contest was worth $200. The program ran for 16 weeks.
    Contact: Derek Owens, Recycling Program Adminstrator, (336) 747-6970,

Other National Incentive Programs:

  • RecycleBank:
    This organization has been set up to bolster recycling efforts and encourage sustainable practices. RecycleBank partners with either an independent waste hauler or a municipality to bring its program to a community. Homes earn RecycleBank Dollars that they can spend on rewards and discounts at businesses, both national and local. RecycleBank provides homes with a 35-, 64- or 96-gallon RecycleBank container that has an imbedded barcode. A user can place all items that can be recycled (paper, plastic, glass, cardboard, steel, aluminum) into this container. During each weekly pickup, the container is weighed and the barcode is read, recording the amount a user has recycled. This data is then transferred to a user's individual RecycleBank account.
  • Cans for Cash:
    The Cans for Cash contest encourages municipalities across the nation to actively promote recycling practices within their community. Communities that participate are eligible to win a variety of monetary prizes ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 which are aimed at bolstering recycling efforts within their municipality. Participating cities are divided up by their respective populations to account for varying sized communities. The contest is sponsored annually by The United States Conference of Mayors, Novelis Corporation and Keep America Beautiful, and runs every year from Oct. 1-31.