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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 14, 2006

State recyclable bottle windfall $23 million

 •  Goodwill to open 6 centers with share of state money

By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i consumers have forsaken about $23 million in refunds on recyclable beverage containers, but the overall rate of redemption continues to rise.

Since October 2004 when the state began taking nickel deposits on beverage containers, local consumer have redeemed 665 million bottles and cans. That's about 58 percent of the 1.14 billion containers sold during that time.

This translates into $33.3 million in refunds to consumers and $23 million that went unrefunded.

After a slow start, the number of consumers redeeming bottles has risen steadily. From the start of the fiscal year through February, more than 73 percent of containers were redeemed, according to the state Department of Health, which administers the recycling program. That compares to a redemption rate of 41 percent during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2005.

"We knew there was going to be a little bit of a learning curve but we are blown away by the participation of Hawai'i residents," said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club. "It speaks volumes that we can do it."

The bottle law, launched Jan. 1, 2005, places a 5-cent redeemable deposit on each beverage container sold in the state. Consumers get back the nickel when they return their containers to a redemption center.

The program got off to a slow start partly because there were few redemption centers, which meant long lines. The redemption rate picked up after the state began to add more centers and operators increased their hours.

Hawai'i Kai resident Steve Newell said he's noticed the improvements.

When the program started, Newell said he unsuccessfully tried three times to return cans and bottles at a redemption center at the Hawai'i Kai Park and Ride. Since then, the center added better-trained staff, making his efforts more convenient.

He said he now uses the center monthly.

Foster Village resident Darren De Mello said he hasn't run into the type of snags that characterized the program in the past.

About two weeks ago, De Mello said he redeemed about $60 worth of bottles and cans at Island Recycling in Kalihi with no hassle. Without the redemption program, De Mello said he probably would have thrown away the containers that he accumulates.

"If they charge you 5 cents a can, you might as well get something out of it," De Mello said.

Kurt Tsue, spokesman for the Health Department, said the state is now hitting its goal of recycling 70 percent or more of all bottles and cans sold.

Tsue said the state's progress is remarkable given that some of the more successful recycling states like California, where the redemption rate is about 70 percent, and Oregon, where 80 percent of all containers are recycled, have had their programs in place for more than a decade.

Consumers in those states also have the added convenience of redeeming their cans and bottles at their local grocery stores, added the Sierra Club's Mikulina. In Hawai'i, consumers can turn in their containers at community redemption centers, which are fewer in number than grocery stores.

Reach Rick Daysog at rdaysog@honoluluadvertiser.com.