Advocates hope to require markets to redeem containers
THE SIERRA Club wants Hawaii's large grocery stores to make getting money back for empty beverage containers as easy for consumers as going to the store.
State Rep. Brian Schatz said yesterday he would introduce a bill in the 2006 Legislature amending the state's Deposit Beverage Container program to require stores to redeem HI-5 labeled containers.
"This is a pro-consumer, pro-environment initiative," said Schatz (D, Tantalus-Makiki-McCully). "It's a simple fix. We want residents to be able to recycle in the neighborhood where they shop -- day or night."
Also yesterday, the state Department of Health announced that the rate of redemption for HI-5 containers reached 85 percent in September, the highest since the refunds began. Redemption rates have grown steadily from 20 percent in January.
"The bottle law has been a huge success for Hawaii's environment," said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii Chapter, "but we can do better. It is time that our grocery stores help to close the loop on recycling."
Schatz and Mikulina said many people still complain of the hassles of redeeming containers at centers that can be hard to find, have limited hours or long lines.
Most of the state's official HI-5 redemption centers are open during daytime business hours; some locations are open as little as four hours a week.
Store owners will fight any attempt to mandate that stores 5,000 square feet or larger provide recycling, said Dick Botti, a spokesman for the Hawaii Food Industry Association, which represents 220 member retail groceries.
"Right now the Sierra Club is pointing its finger at retailers, saying they're not doing their job," Botti said, "but a grocery store is not a garbage collector. Space is limited, and as an industry we'd oppose that legislation."
The Department of Health, which oversees the Deposit Beverage Container program, has set aside $6 million collected from bottle and can deposits to offer retailers and redemption centers financial incentives to provide more places to recycle.
Several businesses or nonprofit agencies have applied for grants to expand existing redemption centers or set up new ones, said Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo. However, no retail merchants have applied to get state rebates for the cost of setting up reverse vending machines on their properties, she said.
The state should award up to $3 million in grants for redemption center operators in the next few weeks, Okubo said. Another $3 million available for retailer rebates for reverse vending machines is available only until Dec. 31, she said, unless lawmakers extend that deadline.