Grocery stores should take back drink containers
A bill to require retailers to redeem drink containers is advancing in the state Senate.
TWO years after Hawaii began its beverage container recycling program, the missing link remains the participation of retailers that sell the drinks.
To recapture the maximum number of used glass and plastic bottles and metal cans, supermarkets, groceries and other stores cannot be relieved of the responsibility to take back the containers they put in consumers' hands.
A Senate bill to require them to accept containers and return deposits to customers would go a long way toward improving the program. State lawmakers should approve the measure and send it to Gov. Linda Lingle for her approval.
The bill that cleared the Senate's Energy and Environment Committee last week eliminates an exemption that was allowed after supermarkets and other beverage retailers objected to the effort to help reduce the stream of recyclable wastes filling landfills across the state.
Smaller stores and those that sell drinks only through vending machines would not need to collect empties. The bill would let supermarkets and large retail operations contract a certified redemption outfit to handle recycling either on their premises or within 1,000 feet of the stores. In addition, redemption centers would have to be open at least 35 hours a week and include weekend and evening hours, and require centers to count, rather than weigh, the first 200 containers a consumer seeks to redeem.
Stores have been unwilling to take back containers, saying they don't have the space needed to set up collection bins, but since the bill allows the option of contracting a recycling business to operate nearby, a group of stores could funnel cans and bottles to one redemption center.
For stand-alone supermarkets, setting up a collection area could be problematic, but most big food store chains are located in shopping malls that house other beverage-sales businesses and could consolidate redemption functions. If shopping mall owners balk, lawmakers should look for ways to encourage their participation.
Consumers would greatly benefit if the exemption is removed, particularly in rural areas and on the neighbor islands where redemption centers aren't as convenient as in urban Honolulu, though some would argue that even in the city, getting back the nickel deposit on each container can be a hassle.
Despite the inconvenience, Hawaii consumers have done well in recycling beverage containers, with recent return rates running more than 65 percent. If supermarkets and other retailers did their part, consumers likely would reward them by spending reclaimed cash in their aisles.