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Beverage container law receives mixed reactions

by Nanea Kalani, staff writer


New Year’s Day traditionally represents a new beginning and a fresh start for the coming year. Many people set goals and make resolutions in anticipation of a better future. Similarly, the state of Hawai‘i embarked on the year 2005 with a new law in an effort to better Hawai‘i’s environment. Effective Jan. 1, the Hawai‘i Deposit Beverage Container Law was implemented by the Hawai‘i State Department of Health.


According to a recent Honolulu Star Bulletin article, each year 1.6 million tons of solid waste is generated on the island of O‘ahu alone. Of that amount, only 500,000 tons are recycled annually. Furthermore, “approximately 800 million beverage containers are sold in the state each year, the majority of which end up discarded in the waste stream or as litter”, according to Hawai‘i State Department of Health director, Chiyome Fukino, M.D., in a Sept. 2004 news release.

The department expects a 5 cent deposit on beverage containers to work as an incentive for people to recycle their empty drink containers.

And the department has good reason to believe so. A recent Honolulu Advertiser environmental column stated that research by the Container Recycling Institute shows that in the state of Michigan, where the beverage container deposit is a dime, recycling is at 95 percent. Elsewhere in the country where the beverage container redemption value is 5 cents, recycling on average is, at 70 percent. Not including Hawai‘i, only 10 states have beverage container laws, and those 10 recycle more bottles and cans than the remaining 40 states combined, according to an out-of-state supporter of the new law.

Under the Deposit Beverage Container Law, by Jan. 1, every deposit beverage container sold in the state requires a 5-cent deposit and carries a refund value of 5 cents. Each container must clearly indicate the refund value on it by that date.

A “deposit beverage container” refers to those less than or equal to 64 fluid ounces. This includes beverage containers made of plastic, aluminum/metal, or glass and includes beverages such as beer, mixed wine, tea and coffee drinks, soda, and noncarbonated water, according to the new law.

The law was passed in June 2002. Effective Oct. 1, 2002, every deposit beverage distributor in the state began paying a nonrefundable 1 cent handling fee on each manufactured or imported deposit beverage container, according to Fukino. The law directly affects distributors who manufacture or import beverages. Companies such as Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Hawai‘i, Pepsi Cola Hawai‘i, and the Menehune Water Company, which bottle their products locally, as well as companies that import beverages, such as Anheuser-Busch of Hawai‘i, are required to pay the 5-cent deposit to the state on each filled beverage container.

Dan Whitford, the area vice president for Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Hawai‘i, does not view the new beverage container law favorably. Because the law directly affects Coca-Cola of Hawai‘i’s products, they had been studying proposal laws for several years before the current law came to the attention of the general public, Whitford said.

“We do not believe that deposit law’s benefits outweigh its challenges, and I say that not only as a beverage distributor, but as an employer, as a Hawai‘i resident, as a consumer, and as a taxpayer. Simply put, the bill’s benefits are very limited, the law ignores the vast majority of the litter and recycling problems it claims to ‘solve,’ and the law is burdensome,” said Whitford.

Each distributor who pays a deposit charges the dealer or consumer a deposit amount equal to the refund value of 5 cents for each container sold in Hawai‘i, as outlined in the law. Dealers in turn charge consumers the deposit beverage container deposit at the point of sale of the beverage excluding sales for on-premises consumption, such as at restaurants and bars. Dealers cannot charge a 6- cent deposit, but they can raise their prices to pass on the 1-cent handling fee. Some Hawai‘i dealers, like Wal-Mart, have not (at least yet) raised their prices.

To whom are the beverage manufacturers and distributors paying the nickel charge per container? A deposit beverage container deposit special fund has been established in the state treasury, according to the law. Into this fund go all revenues generated from the deposit beverage container fee and from the deposit beverage container deposit. Monies in the fund will be used to reimburse refund values to consumers and pay handling fees to redemption centers.

For consumers, the question is, where can we redeem our nickel deposit? According to the new law, this responsibility is laid upon beverage dealers who collected the 5 cents from the consumers. In most cases, dealers must operate a redemption center by accepting all types of empty beverage containers with a Hawai‘i refund value. So, with a few exceptions, wherever a beverage in a marked deposit container is purchased, the nickel deposit can be redeemed at this same location.

At the time of redemption, according to the new law, dealers are required to crush or destroy all deposit beverage containers accepted in order to prevent duplicate refunds on the same container. Moreover, Hawai‘i beverage dealers must ensure that each deposit beverage container collected is recycled and must forward supporting documentation of this to the state.

However, for thirsty downtown campus students, empty beverage containers may have to be reserved and taken elsewhere for refund redemptions.

“ I don’t know where to redeem the refund for my bottles, but I’ve been saving them”, said Shauree Garth-Kurch, a senior advertising major at HPU.

Under the new law, specific guidelines do not require all dealers selling beverages to operate redemption centers by accepting empty containers for their refund value. One such exception applies to businesses that are less than 5,000 square feet of interior space.

This applies to the majority of the vendors operating near the downtown campus. One of these is Downtown Market at 1158 Fort Street Mall. Neil Hilweh, a Downtown Market employee, views the deposit beverage container law as a “very smart” move by the state to advance recycling in Hawai‘i.

Despite moderate consumer complaints about the new law, Hilweh said, “people will get used to it.”

In any case, all dealers are required to post a clear and conspicuous sign at each public entrance specifying the name, address, and hours of operation of the closest redemption center locations.

There are a few exceptions as to the physical condition of the containers upon redemption. As outlined in the new law, redemption centers may refuse to pay the refund value on any beverage containers that are broken, corroded, dismembered, or flattened. Neither will they pay refunds for any containers that contain free flowing liquid or that do not indicate a Hawai‘i refund value.

Is the 5-cent refund really an incentive to recycle? Five redeemed containers results in 25 cents for a gumball or a handful of Chiclets. Ten redeemed containers can get you a public payphone call. And fifteen can buy you a local newspaper. The nickel redemption is not a payment, but rather a refund of what you already had to pay upon purchase of the beverage container.

Jason Matsumoto, who consumes five or six canned beverages on a daily basis, views the new law positively.

“Our community is full of litter. All efforts to reduce the trash on our beaches and in the streets are worth supporting”, said Jason Matsumoto who started reserving empty beverage containers for redemption before the law went into effect.

But not all residents view the new beverage container law as a solution for Hawai‘i’s refuse. Beverage containers consumed in Hawai‘i account for less than 2 percent of the total waste stream and only 7 percent of litter, according to a recent environmental column in the Advertiser.

Kathleen Acierto, an accounting/nursing major at HPU, who has been recycling all her life, says “it’s all up to the person whether they’re willing to recycle. Most people won’t see the need for change until there is a landfill in their backyard.”

According to Whitford, “If we spent a fraction of the money and effort on improving comprehensive recycling in Hawai‘i, we’d not only encourage the recycling of beverage containers, but food containers, detergent bottles, newspapers, junk mail, boxes, and many other parts of the waste stream. It’s a question of focus and efficiency: Comprehensive recycling has a broader focus and is more efficient – a hard combination to beat.”

For more information on the Hawai‘i Beverage Container Law visit www.hi5deposit .com or contact the state of Hawai‘i Department of Health on O‘ahu at 586-4400.



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