HI-5¢ refund accuracy studied
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By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Robbie Dingeman
Wahiawa resident Tadakazu Akagi knows exactly how many cans and bottles he takes to the recycling center, so he got upset when his deposit rebate fell short by $5.85 — that's 117 cans at a nickel per container — and he hopes the state will do something about it.
Akagi, a retired Postal Service employee, usually takes several bags of containers in every few months. He thinks recycling is good for the community — and earns him some extra cash.
"I give it to my grandchildren," he said.
He knows that state law allows the centers to weigh the containers instead of counting them when someone brings in more than 50 containers at a time. But Akagi doesn't understand why the workers don't rely on customers' counts as they did originally.
But relief is on the way. Officials say the state is in the process of changing the administrative rules so that the centers would have to count redemptions of up to 200 containers.
The state also plans a study to address the concerns of people who believe they may be getting shortchanged.
Starting today, the state will send staff members to many of the 82 redemption centers across Hawai'i to check the accuracy of the current weighing counts. The workers will count containers redeemed in a random sampling.
Nearly two years since Hawai'i's bottle law took effect, the accuracy of counting versus weighing remains one of the most debated issues surrounding the recycling program.
Karl Motoyama, coordinator of the state Deposit Beverage Container Program, said complaints have dropped from the 40 to 50 a week when people first started taking their bottles and cans to redemption centers in January of last year to get back their nickel deposits.
Now, Motoyama said, about five to 10 Hawai'i consumers complain each week about some aspect of the bottle law, with most of those concerning counting versus weighing.
Akagi said the present system is discouraging recycling. "My friend gave up; he gives me the cans," he said.
But Motoyama said some people like the weighing system: They can get in and out faster and some think that the weighing formula pays off better.
Waipahu resident Glenn Shimabukuro ran into the same issue Akagi did and wrote to the Health Department, Gov. Linda Lingle and The Advertiser.
"On Aug. 19, 2006, I turned in 833 recyclable containers at the Kunia facility," he wrote. "According to my calculations, I should have received redemption of $41.65."
But when the staff weighed his plastic and aluminum containers and counted only the glass bottles, he said they refunded him $35.50, which shortchanged him for 123 containers. He wrote: "It would seem that if we pay 5 cents per container at the time of purchase, we should be refunded for the same amount — exactly."
At this point in the program, about 60 percent of the estimated 800 million cans and bottles sold annually in Hawai'i are being redeemed.
And competition in the marketplace is bringing changes to the state's program, Motoyama said.
For example, Reynolds Recycling installed a weigh-only express line at the Hawai'i Kai center.
Also, Goodwill Industries of Hawai'i has created two new redemption centers, in Honolulu and Wahiawa, equipped with bigger machines that can count more cans faster.
Goodwill spokeswoman Laura K. Rand said the organization plans to establish six redemption centers. She said the first two opened in September and offer the convenience of accepting donations of clothing and household items at the same place that people redeem their bottles and cans for cash.
For Kailua resident Bruce McIntosh, the recycling centers give him an unexpected source of income, so he's pretty happy with the system. He power-washes sidewalks in Waikiki and picks up cans and bottles as he empties trash.
"Free money," he said with a smile as he picked up a little under $10 for a day's collection. He said he recycles about two or three times a week. "It's extra spending money. Sometimes I weigh."
He likes the new Goodwill Beretania site off Young Street because it's got covered parking and a big, new machine that counts cans faster. It took the "Can-do" machine less than three minutes to count close to 100 containers, less time than it took McIntosh to feed in a bunch of miscellaneous containers one by one.
30 CANS PER POUND
Motoyama said the state's basic program is modeled after California's, which is generally praised. For example, he said Hawai'i centers pay for aluminum cans at a rate of 30 cans per pound; California pays 31 cans per pound.
But he also knows that since that weight depends on averages, it can pay off better for people bringing in bigger and heavier containers: say, a tall Arizona Ice tea can versus an 8-ounce juice tin.
The difference between a small water bottle and a 64-ounce juice can be 10 cents a container in weight, he said.
But Motoyama said the centers can't just take customers' word for the counts, especially since the amount the state pays out comes from what the centers collect.
"We need to be accountable for what we pay," he said. "We have to treat everybody equally."
Reach Robbie Dingeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.