Monday, January 28, 2002


Hawaii bottlers offer
new recycling proposal

Curbside pickups would generate more
results than collecting deposits, they say

By Diana Leone

For 10 years, Suzanne Jones' job has been reducing the amount of trash going into Oahu's landfill.

Almost one-third of the 1.6 million tons of waste generated on the island each year is diverted to recycling programs, says Jones, Honolulu's recycling coordinator.

Among items recycled are yard clippings, tires, metals, large appliances, batteries, cardboard, glass, office paper, construction and demolition materials, and food waste.

Still, Oahu, with the largest population of the state's four counties, was not reaching the state goal of recycling 50 percent of opala by the year 2000.

Jones and her peers on other islands turned their attention in 2001 to disposable beverage bottles and cans.

Their "bottle bill" proposed that beverage distributors pay the state a fee for each bottle or can sold. It suggested 5 cents for single-serving bottles and 15 cents for larger ones, to be refunded to the consumer for each empty bottle or can returned. An additional 2 cents would cover the cost of collecting aluminum, glass and plastic for recycling.

But Hawaii beverage distributors balked. They formed a group, Hawaii Citizens for Comprehensive Recycling, and asked the legislative conference committee considering the bottle bill to give it a chance to propose an alternative.

Last week, the beverage industry group unveiled its plan to House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo Valley-St. Louis Heights-Kaimuki), bottle bill sponsor Rep. Hermina Morita (D, East Maui-North Kauai) and others in a private meeting in Say's office.

The industry group is expected to make presentations today before the state Health Department and at 9 a.m. tomorrow to Morita's Energy and Environmental Protection Committee in Capitol Room 312.

Two machines at the University of Hawaii accept aluminum cans and plastic bottles that will be recycled. Unfortunately, both were broken Wednesday, as Chris Ader could not put his plastic bottle in it.

Their plan proposes to double residential recycling by offering curbside service in urban areas and increasing recycling drop-off points in rural areas. It would offer "twice the recycling at a quarter of the cost," according to Charlie Scott of Cascadia Consulting Group of Seattle.

A key element of the proposal would change how Hawaii counties bill for trash service. Trash pickup costs now are incorporated into property taxes, a method that makes people perceive it as "free," Scott said.

The "pay-as-you-throw" concept would charge residential trash customers by the size of their trash cans, with higher fees for larger cans, as is being done in several mainland cities. The consultants think when charged by volume, people would throw out less, allowing twice-a-week pickup to be reduced to once a week, supplemented by recycling and yard-waste pickups every other week.

Proponents say this can be done for $5 million a year, compared with the $20 million cost of the bottle bill. The money would come from county and state governments, rather than beverage consumers and distributors. But bottle bill proponents question whether the industry plan is a diversionary tactic that is too complicated to be implemented any time soon. Sierra Club's Jeff Mikulina calls the plan "a blueprint for inaction" that offers "nothing new. This ... neglects a lot of the important aspects of the bottle bill, including the litter problem."

The industry plan says it would recycle 33,000 more tons per year of glass, paper, plastics and other materials -- almost double the 17,000 tons the bottle bill would recycle.

Morita's initial reaction was lukewarm. The industry plan focuses on residential pickups, so it does not address beverages consumed away from home, by locals or tourists, and does not address the issue of litter, she said. "The reason why we're targeting bottles is the trends of the industry," Morita said. "We're facing problems that didn't exist five years ago," such as a proliferation of bottled waters, sports drinks, juice and tea drinks and packaging that may mix glass and plastic, making recycling impossible.

Distributors are even considering a type of plastic bottle for beer that is not recyclable, she said.

Morita said she wants the industry group to explain its proposal to the public tomorrow, but "they haven't convinced me that they'll hit the same recycling rates for beverage containers as the container law would."

"I think a lot of what they're saying is very misleading," Jones said. "Rather than which system incurs a greater cost, which cost has the greater impact on reducing littering and increasing recycling of beverage containers?"

She also called reducing trash pickup to once a week "a pretty big assumption."

"What they're proposing on paper may give the appearance of feasibility, but I don't think we can implement what they're proposing" she said.

Jones differs with Cascadia on its estimate of how many people would participate in curbside recycling. They say 70-80 percent; she says her research shows her 40-60 percent participation in mainland areas with curbside recycling.

Jones insists that "there hasn't been one guy in the street that has been against this. ... I think there's tremendous public support for this, but people are not so passionate that they're willing to bang down the doors of the Legislature to tell them."


The bottle bill proposes:

>> A 5-cent deposit on each bottle or can, refundable to the consumer, and a 2-cent fee, which would pay for the cost of collecting the containers for recycling. (A larger deposit, such as 15 cents, probably would be made for larger containers.)

>> Both store-based and independent redemption centers could be certified by the state Health Department to receive used containers for a deposit.


Hawaii Citizens for Comprehensive Recycling, a group of beverage distributors, proposes that the state instead:

>> Restructure county residential garbage pickup fees based on the volume of trash thrown away. This concept, known as "pay-as-you-throw," would charge customers a higher cost for each larger size of trash can. Currently, counties charge flat rates for garbage service on property tax bills.

>> Provide curbside recycling service in urban areas every other week, and reduce garbage pickup to once from twice a week.

>> Find cheaper ways to transport recyclable materials to Asia or the U.S. mainland for processing.

>> Provide incentives and assistance to develop island markets for some recyclables.

>> Offer educational and promotional campaigns about recycling.

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