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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Beverage container fee on track to rise

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer


1 billion

Beverage containers sold October 2004 to March 2006

711 million

Containers recycled since redemption centers opened for business January 2005

45.9 million

Containers recycled in March alone

59 percent

Overall redemption rate since program began in 2004

6 cents

Amount collected from consumers per can or bottle a nickel for deposit and 1 handling fee

7 or 8 cents

Amount per can or bottle paid to recycler; includes 5 paid to customer

$20 million

Amount now in container recycling surplus fund

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For more information on recycling containers, go to www.opala.org.

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If Hawai'i consumers continue recycling at the pace they have so far this year, expect to pay a half-cent more at the store per bottle or can come September.

The HI-5 fee would rise from 6 cents per container to 6.5 cents. Consumers now pay $1.44 in deposit fees for each 24-pack of beverages, but that fee would rise 12 cents to $1.56 a case.

However, you would still only get 5 cents for each container you redeem.

The increase on deposits would occur even though the state has a surplus of more than $20 million from unredeemed bottles and cans.

The increase was mandated by the Legislature when the beverage container recycling law was launched in January 2005. The first fiscal year (July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005) only about 41 percent of the beverage containers were recycled, said Laurence Lau, state Department of Health director for environmental health. But so far this fiscal year, which will end June 30, the state has averaged 71 percent statewide.

The state keeps the money from deposits that are not redeemed. That surplus is used to cover the overhead costs for the HI-5 program.

But as the redemption rate increases, the surplus shrinks. For instance, in February when the redemption rate topped 73 percent, the program collected $2.36 million in revenue and spent $3.45 million on expenses. Some expenses included beefing up the number of redemption centers and training for site operators.

The half-cent increase would take effect if the redemption rate for 2005-2006 fiscal year is more than 70 percent, Lau said. Distributors would be notified by August and the handling fee would likely rise by September.

Lau said the program is designed to be self-sufficient. The surplus is used to improve the recycling program.

The state places a 5 cent redeemable deposit on each beverage container sold in the state. In addition, a 1 cent handling fee is charged by wholesalers and is passed on to consumers. A nickel per container is returned to the consumers, then the state pays 2 or 3 cents to the redemption center. That means the state is paying more per container than it collects.

Eric Chang, a Wai'alae resident who was at the Hawai'i Kai recycling center at the park and ride facility yesterday afternoon, said the surplus ought to be enough to cover any extra costs.

"Shouldn't we wait until we run out of money?" asked Chang. "Normally, I don't bother with the redemption, I just donate the cans and bottles to my son's baseball team. I guess we'll just have to pay it."

Recyclers use the handling fee to cover the cost of collecting, processing and shipping the containers to end-market recycling places.

"We just wanted to make sure the public is aware that this could happen," Lau said. "We're happy that the recycling effort is as high as it is. We should have a lot less litter and a lot less solid waste going to the landfill."

That did not appease Sen. Sam Slom, who has been a vocal opponent of the bottle law. "If you're a soccer mom like me and you look at your bill you'll find that the bottle tax is just as much as the cost of the water bottles," said Slom, R-8th (Kahala-Hawai'i Kai).

Unloading his seven large bags of cans and plastic bottles at the Hawai'i Kai center yesterday, Dallas Iosefa didn't think the additional half-cent fee would deter him or his family from purchasing beverage containers.

"We might as well recycle since we're paying the fees," Iosefa said. "It's not going to stop me from buying stuff."

George Kuybus, who was recycling his 30 cans and 10 glass bottles, said he supports the state's recycling efforts provided the money is used to improve the environment.

"It is more of a tax," he said. "But I don't mind it so much as long as the money's spent wisely. I think it's good to recycle so we don't fill up the landfill."

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com.