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April 23, 2004

The Honolulu Advertiser

Bottle bill must be salvaged

Beverage companies and retailers are seeking to delay implementation of a system that works.

As I read the opinion pieces and letters to the editor regarding the soon-to-be-implemented beverage container deposit system, I see the holes in their arguments as obvious, but the public may read that the issue is confusing, needs more time to be worked out, maybe should be rethought.

We must make sure the message regarding the benefits and effectiveness of Hawai'i's container deposit system remains clear: over 80 percent recycling rates; beverage container litter disappears; nickel deposit redeemed when you return your containers; and a 1 to 1-plus cent additional container fee that runs the system (your cost to support recycling and reduced litter).

A bill is moving through the state Legislature that would improve the efficiency of the system's operation, addressing concerns raised by the beverage industry and retailers - clarifying reporting, payment procedures and the deposit as non-taxable.  It's a house-cleaning bill, readying us for implementation in January.

Unavoidably, it's also a last opportunity for the opponents, dominated by the beverage companies and retailers, to lobby for delay, which would give them one more legislative session to try for repeal.

Their goal is to erode public support and present the program as ineffectual and confusing.  Please don't be taken in as they continue to downplay the benefits and overplay the costs for a system that has been operating very successfully in 10 other states for more than 20 years (30 years in Oregon).  Public support remains at over 70 percent in these states.  The cost of beverages has not increased and the fuss about how to handle redemption, storage and transport to the recyclers died long ago as the systems settled into place.

The retail/beverage industry argues that the impact of the deposit system on increasing recycling and reducing litter will be minimal and doesn't justify the costs, saying that beverage containers comprise 3 to 7 percent of the waste stream.  However, with 800 million glass, plastic and aluminum beverage containers sold in Hawai'i each year, we estimate that over 50,000 tons will be diverted from disposal at an 80 percent average recovery.

The opponents state that beverage containers comprise only 7 percent of litter.  They misrepresent data from the Center for Marine Conservation - that's 7 percent of beach litter in states with container deposits. In non-deposit states, beverage containers account for 19 percent of beach litter.

Retail and beverage companies say that a comprehensive recycling system in the form of curbside collection would preclude the need for deposits.  Comprehensive recycling extends far beyond a single collection system for single-family homes.  Deposits and curbside collection are complementary systems and should both be implemented.  Mayor Harris has proposed that the city roll out a curbside recycling program for O'ahu beginning this year.

Moreover, where curbside service affects only single-family homes, the deposit will affect recovery of beverage containers in condos, commercial properties, hotels, restaurants, the visitor industry, military bases and at parks, beaches and ball games where beverages are being consumed away from home.

Retail and beverage companies argue that the deposit is a tax and will be a cost burden to consumers.  When Hawai'i residents were polled regarding the deposit system and its costs and benefits - the nickel you get back, the one-cent container fee that goes to fund the system, high recycling rates and less litter - over 70 percent were in support.

Retailers claim that the law requires them to set up redemption in their stores, which will be costly, and they haven't enough time to get ready.  Hawai'i's system was deliberately designed to eliminate retailer responsibility for redemption and rely upon recycling companies to establish independent redemption centers near stores.

The law does not require retailers to manage redemption.  For most retailers, offering some level of redemption service is an individual business decision, which would enhance customer convenience and could evolve over the months following the kick-off.

EPA recognized Hawai'i last year with an environmental award for our leadership in passing the bottle bill. The entire country is watching as we move toward implementation.  The retail/beverage industry is one of the strongest lobbying groups here in Hawai'i and across the country.  If you want to see this through, please voice your opinion to our legislators now.  Or a year from now you'll be asking, "Whatever happened to that deposit recycling system?  It works so well on the Mainland.  We should do that here."  And all I'll be able to say is, "We came so close."

Suzanne Jones is recycling coordinator for the city.

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