Fourth-grader Avery Clark already pitches in to recycle milk and juice cartons at school. On Wednesday, Clark, 9, decided to add paper to his list, after his school, Kerr Elementary, was recognized by Mesa for its recycling initiatives.
"It's the right thing to do," Clark said.
Beyond being right, Mesa's giving residents another reason to recycle: a reward.
Kerr Elementary was the chosen site for the announcement of a new Mesa initiative in partnership with RecycleBank. Under the program, the more residents recycle, the more they get rewarded for their efforts, by getting coupons redeemable at local and national retailers.
Dressed in cream and green T-shirts, with "Mesa Recycles" printed on the front and "Green is the New Black" on the back, City Manager Chris Brady roused about 700 students, many also sporting shades of green. He asked playfully: "What is today?"
"Earth Day!" they promptly screamed back, cheering and clapping.
Mayor Scott Smith became a part-time magician for the day, "conjuring" free totes made of recycled material for all the students. Councilman Scott Somers gamely tested a handful of students as they stood in line, to see if they should put that can of beans, a Starbucks plastic cup or an ice-cream tub in blue barrels or black.
Beyond this one-day recognition of Mother Earth, Mesa plans to launch a pilot program in July to encourage residents to recycle more. About 9,300 households from across the city will be tapped to participate in the six-month program. The city has identified the houses and is currently tracking their recycling blue barrels to see how much they recycle right now. Sometime in May, these residents can expect information in the mail about the city's plans to test the program.
The blue barrels will be retrofitted with a microchip, and the city's existing trash haulers will have a sensor to measure all of the material recycled. There'll be an identification tag on each barrel, so the truck can record the weight of the container.
Residents, meanwhile, can create an online account or call to track their points collected, which they can redeem for coupons at places including Target, Home Depot and CVS pharmacy. Local Mesa businesses also will be added to the list.
RecycleBank already has a presence in 100 cities nationwide. In Arizona, Mesa is its first partner city. Company co-founder and CEO Ron Gonen is being recognized this year with the 2009 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Champion of the Earth award for entrepreneurial vision.
From Mesa's perspective, the program is beneficial because the more it recycles, the less it has to pay in landfill fees. Additionally, the city gets paid for recyclable materials.
The pilot program, worth $25,000, is being paid for by aluminum manufacturer Alcoa. It will not cost the city or residents any money.
Mesa will monitor the areas selected to see current recycling participation levels. Once the pilot program is over, officials will compare the difference to figure out the effectiveness of the new program, to evaluate the results and costs for citywide implementation, said Mariano Reyes, Mesa's solid waste community outreach specialist.
The city can count Mesa residents Gloria and Don Traicoff in. The Mesa residents, both 74, and avid recyclers, were disappointed to find out their house isn't included in the pilot program area. But the Traicoffs hope it works, coupons or not.
"For me, the reward is to see more people do what we're already doing," Gloria said.