I just watched Annie Leonard’s Latest Video from The Story of Stuff Project: The Story of Solutions. And I have a few thoughts that might not be entirely popular. Here’s the video: http://act.storyofstuff.org/page/s/growing-solutions
In it, Annie argues that not all “solutions” to our environmental and social problems are created equal. Some solutions simply promote the status quo, while others are “game changers.” And I’m excited to see that she has decided to use plastic pollution solutions as an example. According to The Story of Solutions:
Plastic Bag Ban = Game Changing Solution
Plastic Recycling Incentive (such as gift cards for putting stuff in your recycle bin) = Status Quo
You’ll have to watch the video to understand her reasons for classifying these two kinds of “solutions” this way. But I’d just like to offer my take on incentive programs: I don’t think they are all created equal either. Sure, it would be nice if people would make changes because it’s the right thing to do. But is it practical to expect that most people will? Um… not based on the kinds of comments I read on mainstream sites like Yahoo or AOL. We’ve got to make doing the right thing attractive to people. So then, the question is, what kind of behavior do we want to incentivize?
Recyclebank = Status Quo
I totally agree with Annie that programs like Recyclebank (which gives people rewards based on the amount of stuff in their recycle bins) simply promote more consumption. (Note: Annie did not mention Recyclebank by name, but I have no problem naming names.) Recyclebank’s home recycling program doesn’t reward you for reducing your consumption and thereby reducing the amount of stuff in your recycle bin. It only rewards people who recycle. So for example, the more bottled beverages you consume, the more bottles you can recycle, and the more you can earn. The more disposable plastic you use, the more you get rewarded… as long as you toss that plastic in your recycle bin instead of your trash can. So ultimately, Recyclebank just encourages more consumption of single use disposable products, more energy use, more resource extraction, more stuff.
TraX = Step in the Right Direction?
I can’t believe I haven’t already written about TraX, a new Facebook program to reward people for bringing their own reusable cups, straws, and bags when they go out. In fact, I thought I had, and just spent about 10 minutes searching my blog to find the post that I thought for sure I had written. Well, okay, this will be that post.
To participate in the program, you take a picture with your smartphone while actually using your bag, cup, or straw and then upload it to Facebook or Instagram (depending on the program) and give it a specific hashtag. Here are the complete instructions for each program.
You receive 25 cents per action, up to $1 per day, on a gift card account. The rewards are sponsored by various entities. Right now, ChicoBag sponsors the bag program; Simply Straws, the straw program; and Clean Water Fund, a non-profit, the cup program.
You receive your rewards via email to a Tango gift card account. No need to ever have an actual plastic gift card. Rewards can be used to buy stuff, yes, but they can also be used to donate to non-profit organizations.
Is this a perfect program? No. You still only get rewarded for buying things… you don’t get credit for filling your reusable cup with coffee from home or carrying your own stuff in your reusable bag or sipping a homemade milk shake through your reusable straw. But the purpose of the program is to encourage people who would have used single use disposable products to remember to opt for reusables instead. Unlike Recyclebank, it actively discourages consumption of disposable, single-use plastics.
The other drawback to TraX, of course, is that you have to have a smartphone and a Facebook and/or Instagram account to use it. If your anti-stuff lifestyle precludes that kind of technology, then you won’t be rewarded through this program. But I have a little secret for you: Even Annie Leonard has a smartphone. As do I. I’ll write more about my phone and my thought processes–some would say rationalizations–that lead to acquiring it in another post. For now, let’s just recognize that even a program like TraX encourages a certain amount of consumption. But would you agree that it’s a step in the right direction?
Do People Need Monetary Rewards?
Well, not everyone does. I personally used TraX a few times and then forgot to do it. I don’t need a monetary incentive to carry my own bags and travel mug and straw because apparently, I’m one of those geeks that gets a dopamine high just from reducing waste. Not bragging — it’s just how I am. But I recognize that not everyone is as committed (some would say “extreme”) as I am.
So what do you think about rewards programs in general? What kinds of programs do you think are beneficial and which kinds just promote the status quo?