Once More, with Feeling: Cash for Trash!

Two years ago a team of zealots and environmental extremists from the Ecology Center and City of Berkeley staff prowled the pre-dawn streets of Berkeley, randomly hijacking garbage from the cans of the city’s sleeping residents. This was the first run of our “Cash for Trash” program; sorting through the selected trash bins, we searched for any recyclable material amidst the rubbish. If our lucky Berkeleyan had only trash — no recyclables — in their garbage, that person became an instant “Cash for Trash” winner. With the permission of the selected individuals, we went through this ritual once a week for six months, sorting smelly garbage in the cold and dark from February to July 2001, and rewarding responsible recyclers. One of our residents won $2,700. She had just recently been told she needed a hearing aid when the garbage fairy (me) arrived and covered the cost. Other people — sixteen all together — won $50, $250, and more.
Soon the phones in the Recycling Department were ringing off the hook from recycling-savvy citizens vying to get their garbage chosen. We explained that the rules of the contest require that the contestants be selected randomly. But as the calls poured in, we realized we’d have to find a way to take advantage of this overwhelming enthusiasm. So this year — when we once again worked up the desire to savor the smell of rotten fruit, soiled diapers, and cat litter — we changed the rules a little. Before this year’s Cash for Trash begins, we’re inviting our recycling citizens to join the “pre-contest,” our Champions of Recycling program.
The program is inspired by Lisa Bauer’s UC Berkeley Waste Diversion program from Fall 1999, a demonstration we lovingly describe as “in-your-face-recycling.” In Bauer’s program, Ecology Center staff went desk to desk on the UC Berkeley campus holding trash bins in the faces of deans, administrators, emeritus professors, Fulbright scholars and Nobel laureates, showing them how much more they could be recycling. After the demonstration, on-campus recycling soared. Unfortunately, the City of Berkeley is a little too big for us to go door to door, so we had to modify this strategy for the pre-contest. Volunteers will have the contents of their garbage analyzed for recyclables, and receive in-depth feedback and training in recycling skills so they can spread the word. At press, we already have close to 450 Champions. Ultimately, we hope to have representatives from every Berkeley neighborhood.
The Champions of Recycling pre-contest will run from March 24, 2003 until May 2. The actual Cash for Trash 2003 contest will run every day from May 5 to June 13. Any Berkeley resident who does not decline to participate could be randomly chosen and potentially win up to $2,000.
Last time we held this contest city recycling levels went up 10% — 1,350 tons. That’s 1,350 tons we don’t have to burn, clear-cut, drill wildlife refuges, salvage harvest, strip mine, decapitate mountains, pool leachate, dump toxins, obliterate cultures, or pay Halliburton billions for. So recycle, damn it! You have nothing to lose but war and poverty. You have everything to gain right down to cash for your trash. —Dave Williamson
Info: www.ecologycenter.org/CashForTrash/

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