There’s a company called RecycleBank that’s putting a brand new spin on the whole recycling thing. Based on the very American, very capitalistic idea that people are motivated by money (or money equivalents), the socially-motivated RecycleBank piggy-backs on existing recycling efforts by rewarding participation with coupons that can be used at participating businesses. Now there’s an innovative free-market solution to a public dilemma!

The more you recycle (measured in weight), the more you get – up up to $35 Recyclebank Dollars a month. As the RecycleBank website explains:

“Your RecycleBank recycling container has a barcode that is recorded by the recycling truck. The amount your home recycles is translated into RecycleBank Dollars that you can spend at participating stores.”

This actual implementation of the idea is still in its infancy (less than 2 years old), but in Clayton and Westville NJ, Wilmington DE, and Bucks and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania the program has already shown a marked increase in recycling activity. In fact, in parts of Pennsylvania a former recycling rate of 5-15% is now about 50% – a very respectable conservation effort that translates into real savings in landfill costs for the cities.

According to RecycleBank, there are currently 250 national and local businesses taking part in the program, and one can only assume this will continue to grow. Looking to expand slowly throughout the country, the program is expected to move into the Northeast this year, with Everett, Massachusetts the possible first entry point, according to the Boston Globe.

And the best part is that both consumers and businesses reap the benefits. While consumers get to save money at participating businesses, the businesses themselves (including Starbucks, Whole Foods, Borders, and Target) get the great PR and a “we really care about the environment” image. Not bad for a little garbage.