DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
At the recycling and redemption site at the corner of 21st and Waialae avenues yesterday, Kreston Opunui hoisted bags of collected cans and bottles onto a truck to be taken away.
70% of HI-5 containers redeemed, state says
Hawaii sees rise in recycling
Hawaii consumers redeemed more than 70 percent of nickel-deposit bottles and cans in the last half of 2005, say state officials who detailed the recycling program's progress in its first year.
By comparison, the HI-5 Deposit Beverage Container Program had a 20 percent redemption rate in its opening month of January 2005, said Larry Lau, state Department of Health's deputy director for environmental health.
The progress came in spite of consumer complaints about not enough redemption centers in some areas and spotty service in others, Lau said yesterday after releasing his department's analysis of the program's first year.
Jeff Mikulina, the Hawaii Sierra Club's director, noted, "I think that given this is the first year of this program, it's a tremendous success." Mikulina lobbied for several years to make Hawaii the 11th state with a bottle recycling program.
Both Mikulina and Lau said the program can be improved by requiring larger retailers to accept container returns at their stores.
One of several bills introduced in the Legislature that would accomplish this is House Bill 2383 in Gov. Linda Lingle's administrative package. The bill hasn't been scheduled for a hearing.
Retailers, through their professional organizations, have opposed all attempts to require them to redeem HI-5 containers at stores.
Redemption rates rose steadily through the first half of 2005, spiked to 81 percent of sales in July, then stayed above 70 percent August to November, Health Department statistics show.
There was a spike in beverage sales in December that's presumed to have been buying for holiday parties, Lau said. Container redemptions in December were down slightly, so the overall rate of redemption was only 52 percent.
For all of 2005, the redemption rate of HI-5 containers was 61 percent, according to state figures.
Redemption figures for last month, when many of the containers purchased in December presumably were recycled, are not yet available.
Heading into the program's second year, Lau said he will emphasize "improved consumer convenience and improved accountability."
Lau said he plans to hire four more HI-5 staff -- two site inspectors, an account clerk and a planner -- if the positions are approved by the Legislature. There are now seven full-time Health Department employees working on the HI-5 program, he said.
Added employees will increase inspections of privately run redemption centers and address some issues of accountability raised in a November 2005 state auditor's report on the program, Lau said.
The audit said the HI-5 program's existing accounting system "cannot ensure that all revenues and payments are properly accounted for."
Lau said the program has collected $58.7 million and spent about $37 million, leaving $21.7 million on hand.
Spending includes $26.5 million in refunds to consumers, $8.5 million in handling fees to recyclers and $2.1 million to the state for program administration, which includes $700,000 forwarded to counties.
Lau will continue to be "the face of the recycling program" for dealing with the public, he said. Since the HI-5 program began, Health Department employees with the job title of recycling coordinator have not talked to the media.
Lau said he will testify in favor of all three of Lingle's bills that seek changes in the HI-5 program, but that he will work to improve the program as it is now.
"We're faithfully trying to implement the law that exists," Lau said. The bills are proposals at this point, he said. "The Legislature will have to decide what to do with them."