Gathering Place
Jeff Mikulina

Isle grocers can do more
to help recycling efforts

If there is any remaining doubt why recycling isn't as easy as it should be, Ed Thompson of the Hawaii Food Industry Association has dispelled it with his Jan. 23 letter to the editor. Retailers simply don't want to take responsibility for the products they profit from by providing bottle and can refunds. They don't care to serve their customers with redemption centers in their stores.

"We have had little time to research the costs and benefits to create these centers," he writes (apparently forgetting about the 2 1/2 years that passed since the recycling law was enacted). But in bottle bill states across the mainland, grocery stores -- including some that Thompson represents, such as Safeway -- provide refunds for deposit containers. Why not in Hawaii? Are Hawaii customers somehow less valuable than their mainland counterparts?

Dominic Henriques shows how to put a bottle in a reverse vending machine.

Besides excusing the grocery stores' lack of participation in recycling, Thompson perpetuates several bottle law myths in his letter. Thompson asserts that most of the handling fee and deposit was "absorbed by the industry to help fund the system." Who is he kidding? Every customer can clearly see the handling fee and deposit indicated on their register receipt. And countless folks were charged the 5-cent deposit on containers that weren't labeled for refund.

What's more -- and this is something that retailers have cleverly obfuscated -- residents had already been paying a 1.5-cent "advance disposal fee" on glass containers for more than a decade. Under the bottle law this was reduced to 1 cent and renamed a "handling fee." Retailers who are now adding an additional 1 cent to the price of these beverage containers are then collecting 2.5 cents per container.

Most folks are happy to recycle. But they want it to be easy and convenient. Nothing prevents the grocers -- who already have distribution networks established -- from becoming certified redemption centers. Alternatively, they could contract with recyclers or those who operate reverse vending machines to provide this service to the community. Recyclers have offered to operate reverse vending machines at grocery stores, but the major grocery chains in Hawaii have stonewalled. Such machines at grocery stores would be highly accessible, likely operate 24/7, and would ensure an accurate count (and refund) of all deposit containers -- thus addressing three of the biggest customer gripes.

Besides luring customers into their stores with redemption centers, grocers likely would benefit from any kick-backs that the recyclers offered (and they have offered). But they should do it for another reason. Grocery stores are part of our communities. They should be committed to bettering the community and environment. They can demonstrate this commitment by serving their customers with redemption centers at their stores.

Jeff Mikulina is the director of the Sierra Club, Hawaii chapter.

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