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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 19, 2006

Numbers show HI-5 should be improved

The numbers released this week on HI-5, Hawai'i's voluntary recycling program, show we don't have an efficient and effective statewide program that makes us as green as we can possibly be.

At first glance, Hawai'i residents appear to have taken to the idea, recycling 71 percent of beverage containers for the first quarter this fiscal year, nearly double the rate of a year ago.

But for doing such a good job, here's your reward: You get assessed an increase in the de facto "recycling tax," which raises your deposit per container by a half-cent.

Legislators, in their wisdom, passed that to make sure the program would cover the carrying costs of all those containers.

But the law already has a built-in income center from folks who simply throw away bottles in the trash and forfeit their deposit money. That leaves the state with a surplus of more than $20 million.

At minimum, the law should be changed so that any deposit increase is at the discretion of the state Health Department, and not left to an automatic trigger especially when there's a HI-5 surplus.

That's an easy fix. Beyond that, the numbers give us an opportunity to rethink how to meet the greater need in our state for a comprehensive recycling effort that really works.

In the 10 states that have bottle bill laws, most all have municipalities that have curbside recycling. That's still a model that, if followed here, could complement HI-5 and deal with our growing waste problems.

Ideally, such a program would be mandatory where our cities and counties make it convenient for residents to recycle everything from bottles to newspapers to yard waste. To make it truly efficient, the state should attempt to follow the Oregon model and involve bottlers and grocers to both take in bottles and make deposit refunds easier.

But coming up with the kind of program that is efficient and effective has been nearly impossible.

Honolulu had a chance to initiate at least the curbside portion of that idea. But at the last minute, the city stopped short of a full-fledged effort, despite warnings that available landfill space was shrinking fast.

The state Legislature introduced a bill this year to enlist the aid of businesses in container recycling, but the bill went nowhere.

The HI-5 update this week serves as a reminder that the recycling debate is far from over, and that the only thing that keeps Hawai'i in a half-hearted effort is a lack of political will.