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July 15, 2007

Guam Pacific Daily News
Opinion

Bottle bill would help reduce waste
By Tina Rose Muña Barnes

DPW's solid waste operations may be more effective acting autonomously, but that's not their only problem. Although Guam's more developed areas, with paved roads and easy access for mechanized vehicles, can easily be serviced by trash collectors, thousands of our island's homes are in rural areas, most without sidewalks and paved roads, and efficient trash collection is a challenge. Standard urban/suburban collection operations in the mainland won't work in most of Guam.

Rural areas require labor-intensive collection, with two or three persons needed per truck to physically pick up trash containers. We know from experience that unauthorized dumping and burning already takes place far too often, and raising the cost of collection encourages more of that kind of activity.

If GovGuam charges what it actually costs to run a modern solid waste operation for the entire community, the average household won't want to pay the price. But continued government subsidies for operations will mean the administration will still have some control. It's pretty clear that until needed infrastructure is in place for mechanized trash collection to reach virtually all homes, an autonomous solid waste operation will remain a dream.

At the same time, reducing our waste and increasing recycling is a necessity. Implementation of a "bottle bill" could help us with reducing, recycling and funding solid waste collection.

Bottle bills are "beverage container deposit programs," adopted in 11 states, with a 12th starting soon. Various senators over the years have tried to implement a bottle bill in Guam because:

  • It cleans the environment -- 60 percent of litter is beverage containers;

  • It encourages recycling -- the 11 bottle bill states recycle nearly 80 percent of their beverage containers; and

  • It reduces landfill waste -- beverage containers are 5 percent of municipal solid waste, and bottle bills encourage other kinds of recycling.

Bottle bills add a deposit on beverage containers that is paid at point of purchase. When empty containers are brought to a redemption center, the deposit is returned. The per capita consumption of beer, soda, juice, water, etc. is 28-1/2 cases yearly. That's 684 beverage containers that shouldn't go into the landfill.

Based on a 10-cent deposit and recycling 75 percent of the containers, the uncollected deposits would be more than $17.10 per person, or more than $3 million each year. This uncollected deposit, called the "escheat," can be used to assist in funding solid waste operations.

In the past, the military wouldn't participate in Guam's bottle bill program. Since exchanges and commissaries sell 50 percent of all beverages in Guam, a bottle bill won't work without their cooperation. During Assistant Navy Secretary Penn's visit, both he and Maj. Gen. Bice agreed with my position that Guam should be treated the same as the other bottle bill states.

I hope to get a strong commitment from the military and I will be revising my draft bill to meet all concerns. We need to get this valuable program implemented soon to improve our solid waste program and move recycling forward.

Sen. Tina Rose Muña Barnes (D-Mangilao) is serving her second term in the Guam Legislature.

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