It’s been almost a year since the city established its first public recycling program in partnership with New Jersey-based for-profit company Greener Corners.
“And it’s going great,” said Carrie McCausland, sustainability coordinator for the city.
With 150 Greener Corners recycling and garbage containers in parks and the high-traffic areas of the downtown core, the city collected more than 40 tons of recycling before the end of 2011, according to its year-end report. It diverted more than 40 percent of waste from landfills.
Greener Corners also reports success with a total of 31 sponsors who have purchased advertising space on the bins, said Madeleine Mellini, Colorado Springs project manager for Greener Corners.
“We needed the partnership because we wanted to provide recycling to the community and didn’t have money to do that,” McCausland said.
She said 20 percent of the population in the Pikes Peak region said in the 2010 quality of life survey that recycling was the biggest environmental issue in the area.
She has fielded calls from other municipalities considering the program, including Baltimore County, Md. and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Greener Corners set up the bins in the parks and 60 in the downtown core and pays for recycling pickup. The city is still responsible for garbage collection, Mellini said. Waste Management collects garbage Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays and recyclables downtown on Tuesdays and Thursdays and in the parks on Wednesdays.
Greener Corners pays for the service by selling advertising sponsorship for the bins and helps sponsors tailor their advertising to the medium. Many advertisements talk about green efforts, recycling and community.
Kaiser Permanente, one of the company’s earliest sponsors, Says in its ad that healthy environments promote healthy communities.
Mellini said she couldn’t say what sponsorships cost because there are too many variables. It depends on how many bins a company buys, for how long and if they’re a nonprofit or not. She also didn’t want to say what percentage of the bins have been sold.
But a stroll through the downtown core would have revealed a lot of self advertising for Greener Corners last summer. And now, most of the bins downtown feature large poster advertisements for local businesses.
Mellini said the company launched the project with about five core sponsors and now has 31. Most sponsors buy more than one bin, she said.
David Neubacher, who owns Navakai, an IT consulting firm, said he was on board early on.
“We heard what they were trying to do and we were in,” he said. “I think Colorado Springs is really far behind the rest of the country where the environment is concerned — embarrassingly so. We thought Colorado Springs needed more obvious recycling.”
While Neubacher signed on out of principle, he has gotten at least one new customer, thanks — in part — to the advertising, he said.
He has advertisements on bins in the downtown business district because those are the customers Navakai serves. The company offers tech support to businesses.
One new client looked Navakai up online when he was looking for an IT consultant. Then he saw one of Navakai’s branded cars on the road. And finally, he spotted the recycling bin.
“It was that third thing he saw that tipped him over the edge,” Neubacher said.
Mellini believes in the bins.
She’s passionate about recycling and Greener Corners greater mission. But she’s also an advocate for them as advertising vessels. She walked the streets with a bin-size box before the program launched on Earth Day in April of 2011 so she could make sure they would be well placed for sponsors with lots of visibility.
She walks the streets a couple times a week with a wet rag to make sure the bins sparkle.
“I take great pride in these bins,” she said. “These people have put their brands on them.”
She walked into Old Chicago downtown and wetted a paper towel in the bathroom so she could wipe the Colorado Springs Conservatory’s ad. It wasn’t particularly dirty, but there was a dribble of soda down one side and an accumulation of dust on the Plexiglas covering it.
If there is graffiti on the bins, a crew cleans it off within 24 hours, she said.
There are still discussions about how best to tackle recycling in town. One man complained that there shouldn’t be regular garbage cans on the street and others have told her the city needs more regular garbage cans to handle extra overflow.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” she said. “And we’re always trying to improve.”
Mellini said she’s working on new contracts or has recently signed contracts with sponsors like Taco Bell, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Downtown Partnership and others.
Ron Butlin, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, said the partnership has several bins downtown where it will advertise events throughout the summer. It was a natural choice for advertising because it will let people who are already comfortable downtown know about events.
Mellini said Greener Corners is prepared to roll out a second phase with another 150 bins once the current stock reaches an acceptable fill rate, which she did not reveal.
And there could be a third phase after that for a total of 450 bins scattered throughout the city.