Watching the rise of Recyclebank


It was early 2003 when my brother sat us down in my mom’s house to get our thoughts on a business plan he had developed while he was Kramer-ing away as a lawyer in New York City (his boss told him he wasn’t cut out for that particular firm but he really knew how to throw a good “golf-outing. He was kind of given his notice, but kind of not, so he just came into work for the next 6-8 months and literally JUST worked on his business plan). My brother knew a law career wasn’t really for him and he was always interested in conservationism and recycling – he thought what if people could get paid for recycling at the household level and a business could be created that would reward people for recycling. The more you recycled, the more points you achieved to redeem for goods and services – similar to the airlines frequent flyer programs. Recyclebank started in my mom’s kitchen and by early 2005, my family moved back from Atlanta, GA to help my brother Pat start his business. My husband ran all the computer infrastructure, my mom was the receptionist, and I was the marketing consultant. We were all charged with attracting local retailers and brand, local and national to sign on. My husband created the first Recylebank logo and cute blue piggy bank with the recycling logo on it. IMG_1627

This was all before social media. It seems a bit weird now to think about starting a new company, one solely focused on local awareness and growth without it. We only had a few neighborhoods to pilot with so we canvassed those neighborhoods and put flyers in mailboxes announcing their new recycling changes.

Recyclebank goes door to door for its first full city roll lout of its curbside program in Wilmington, Delaware.

Recyclebank goes door to door for its first full city roll lout of its curbside program in Wilmington, Delaware.

Each household would get a single-stream RFID chipped recycling bin and depending on the weight of their weekly recycling, the household would get points that would add up every week. Recyclebank members could log in to their account via the website to access and/or redeem their points.

Recyclebank wasn’t an early adapter to social media. They started on Facebook in 2008, right around the time my brother stepped down as CEO to pursue another start-up venture he had in mind. Twitter came even later in 2009. My husband stayed with company until 2010 and he started Recyclebank’s social media presences in both Facebook and Twitter. I think for the first year or so, we hovered around 500 followers on twitter and probably double that on Facebook, primarily because Recyclebank would offer weekly incentives or special points “sales” that you could only find on Facebook.

My husband didn’t really know what any social media rules at the time and this wasn’t his primary job with the company.  He posted about twice a week on Facebook and maybe once a week on Twitter (it took a while to get used to the character count and even what kind of things to say). In the beginning, Facebook was more about engaging members to interact with their accounts by redeeming miles while Twitter was more about facts and figures related to recycling. Gradually over the years, that has changed and Facebook has taken on more of an emotional, photo driven group that has just shy of 300,000 likes while there are 63,400 followers on the Recyclebank Twitter page. They post on Facebook at least twice a day and on Twitter at least five times a day.

While no one in the family is involved in the company anymore, we all have shares or some ‘investment’ within the company and thus, I still actively follow it on social media and even though some of us in the family aren’t happy with the direction the company has taken sometimes (they got rid of the Recyclebank pig, they moved headquarters to NYC), I will say I have been impressed primarily with how they engage their Facebook audience. They use their platform there to post on anything from organic and chemical free household cleaners to healthy eating to innovative ways to conserve energy. It’s almost like a version of Real Simple magazine for the Recyclebank devotees. They’ve done it right with Facebook and created a family on social media. They  now have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. If you engage your family, they will keep coming back and spread the good word.

It was fun to be involved with the company from the start and I have enjoyed watching it grow. I still miss the Recyclebank pig though!

This entry was posted in Activism, Advertising campaigns, Innovation, Social Media and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Watching the rise of Recyclebank

  1. sydhavely says:

    Your brother has all the hallmarks of a real entrepreneur. Charlie Rose had the founders of airbnb., Uber, and Tim Cook on last night and they all had ventures like your brother. Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, when asked by Rose if he regretted his failures, Kalanick said he never saw them as failures but as lessons for the next venture. Entrepreneurs always see a silver lining in the clouds even though it rains a lot. Very interesting, real-life post. Thanks, Kate.

  2. katefitz2005 says:

    Thanks for the kind words and agreed! Recyclebank was actually 4 ventures ago. My brother, Pat FitzGerald, is an adjunct professor at Wharton, teaching one class about entrepreneurship and one class about business plan writing.

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