RecycleBank Puts $30M in the Bank

recyclebank The most low-tech of clean technologies, recycling, got a boost today. RecycleBank, a Philadelphia-based startup that runs incentive-based recycling programs, has raised $30 million in Series B funding led by the high-profile VCs at Kleiner Perkins, PEHub reports via VentureWire. RecycleBank’s round also included existing investors RRE Ventures and Sigma Partners, who together invested $13.1 million in a Series A financing last year.

As far as low-tech cleantech goes, this is a big investment. Kleiner Perkins Partner John Doerr was quite excited about RecycleBank’s mission and business when he talked about the company at the Berkeley Energy Symposium, saying applying the right business model to existing technology can be good business for the planet.

RecycleBank seeks to revitalize municipal recycling by incentivizing the program for consumers. The more a customer recycles, the more “RecycleBank Dollars” he or she earns, which can be redeemed for discounts at over 250 different businesses. So by recycling more beer bottles, newspapers and shampoo bottles you can get discounts on Jockey underwear, Starbucks latt├ęs or even PetCo dog food.

Customers are given a special recycling bin (each has a unique RFID tag built in) in which they can recycle glass, plastic, metal, paper and cardboard. The recycling trucks identify each container and weigh the contents, crediting the household. Customers can track and manage their recycling and rewards through RecycleBank’s web site.

RecycleBank is also tackling e-waste through a partnership with CollectiveGood. The company plans to soon (according to its web site) expand to include the recycling of computers, printers, scanners and fax machines. But it will have competition in the form of SecondRotation and BuyMyTronics, both of whom pay cash for old gizmos.

Making the recycling business a profitable one is a tall order. Amid a budget crisis in 2002, New York City stopped recycling glass and plastic altogether because the program was losing too much money (the Big Apple has since resumed recycling). But RecycleBank is all too aware of what a volatile market it can be; it points to the most recent Annual Nationwide Survey of Solid Waste Management in the U.S., which notes that 28 states have seen recycling rates go down since 2001.

RecycleBank makes its money from the municipalities themselves, who pay based on number of household involved. The company also gets a cut from the recyclers, assuming they see a boost in materials coming in.

Early pilot programs turned in some impressive recycling adoption rates. In two Philadelphia communities RecycleBank boosted recycling rates to 90 percent each, up from 35 and 7 percent, respectively.

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