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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, October 31, 2004

Crash course on 'bottle bill' begins

 •  Chart: Recycling containers — and your nickel

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i consumers are about to get a quick lesson on the new state law that requires a nickel deposit on bottles and cans. They'll see the law at work at the checkout counters and will learn more about it from a government ad campaign that explains the fee.

By the numbers

5: Five cents is the deposit that Hawai'i residents must pay on specially labeled bottles and cans starting tomorrow

800 million: The number of beverage containers used in Hawai'i each year

20: The percentage of those beverage containers that are recycled now

$1.44: How much more a $6 case of 24 cans of soda will cost with the new fee added

When retailers start charging the fee effective tomorrow, the impact will be immediate: Consumers will see the cost of a $6 case of soda rise by $1.20, after seeing the price rise a penny a can a few weeks ago.

The benefits will take longer to show up. The beverage container deposit measure was passed and signed into law in 2002 as a way to encourage recycling, cut down on litter and reduce Hawai'i's dependence on landfills.

The program and how it works are explained in an ad campaign that begins today — the eve of the launch of what advocates call one of the most significant environmental programs in years in Hawai'i. The entire campaign originally was estimated to cost $900,000, but health officials said that figure may change.

Some businesses expect the worst, saying that customers will not understand why they can't redeem their bottles and cans right away. Merchants have complained that the public needs more time to learn about the new law, and proponents have said the state waited too long to begin the education effort.

But Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the ad campaign is geared to start two months before the official start of the entire program.

Nov. 1 is a milestone, but Jan. 1 is considered the official start of the Hawai'i Deposit Beverage Container Program, she said.

More information

State Health Department: www.hawaii.gov/health or call 586-4226

City Department of Environmental Services: www.opala.org

Sierra Club: www.bottlebillhawaii.org

"No matter how you do it, there's going to be issues at first," said Jeff Mikulina, Sierra Club Hawai'i director and a key proponent for the measure.

An informal survey of some shoppers in Kaka'ako last week showed that people support the recycling idea but were frustrated by the two-month lag between the date when stores can charge the deposit on the specially labeled containers and the Jan. 1 date when they can get their deposits back at redemption centers.

The two-month lag was spelled out in the law to provide time for distributors and stores to have a transition from containers without the HI 5 label to those with the special deposit label that is required by law as of Jan. 1.

In recent weeks, Hawai'i consumers began paying a penny more for each beverage container they buy. Most stores started charging that nonrefundable fee in October, but some added it earlier. That fee shows up on cash register receipts as a "HI container fee," which is being used by the state to set up the new deposit operation.

Pauoa Valley resident Jason Chun buys cold drinks every day for himself and those who work with him at his auto body and paint business. He knows that the new deposit law will mean those drinks will cost him more beginning this week.

But Chun supports the deposit idea even if it means a bigger tap on his wallet. "It's better for the environment," he said. Now, he gives the containers to his neighbor to recycle. Having the deposit may change that: "Maybe it will get me to do it."

Hawai'i Kai resident Aimee Camren thinks the new law will encourage her and others to recycle instead of throwing out the containers. "Our landfills are getting full," she said. "It's just a waste of money."

Hawai'i becomes just the 11th state to adopt a "bottle bill." The most recent other state to add a nickel deposit was Massachusetts in 1982, Mikulina said.

The state's ad campaign promoting the effort is built around the slogan "It's good for you. It's good for the aina." It will include posters for stores, bag stuffers and Web site information, and radio and newspaper ads intended to tell consumers everything they need to know about the program.

Okubo said the state has been working with recyclers and expects a lot of them to become redemption centers.

"We anticipate beginning to certify some centers by mid-November," she said.

Gov. Linda Lingle's administration has opposed the plan — favoring a push for curbside recycling instead — and proposed repealing it. Twice. Mikulina has criticized the Lingle administration for being slow to prepare for the program, leaving key staff positions empty until recently and waiting to begin a public education campaign until the day before the nickel deposits can be charged by stores.

Mikulina expects retailers and other opponents to push for repeal, but he said the program will work once people get through the uncomfortable transition. He updated his Web site so that residents who have questions, comments or complaints can easily write in for answers.

He also hopes that people will use the site to report stores that aren't charging correctly.

"We fully anticipate that recycling opponents will launch an assault on the bottle law while it is just struggling to get off the ground," Mikulina said.

In the end, though, Mikulina believes the support will come. "People have values that are higher than a 5-cent deposit. In Hawai'i, people value the environment."

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.

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