Committee Halts Attempt to Scrap Bottle Bill, Glass Recycling

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On Friday, February 5, the state Senate Committee on Economic Development, Environment, and Technology deferred a bill that would have repealed the state’s beverage container recycling programs. Introduced by committee vice chair Sen. Sam Slom and Sen. Lorraine Inouye, Senate Bill 2714 seems to have been prompted largely by findings of the Office of the Auditor that the Deposit Beverage Container (DBC, the result of the 2002 “bottle bill”) program is “poorly managed and susceptible to fraud.” The bill argued that the counties, and not the strapped state Department of Health (DOH), should administer recycling programs.

“Redemption centers have refused to provide documentation for the amount of materials redeemed and related reimbursements requested. Auditors also discovered redemption centers operating without proper state certification. Local media reports reveal that tons of glass containers are not recycled due to the lack of reimbursement funding to offset processing costs,” the bill stated.

Even so, testimony on the bill unanimously favored retaining the DBC program, as well as the DOH’s glass Advance Disposal Fee (ADF) program.

The DOH, for one, pointed out that the DBC and ADF programs, which provide reimbursements of up to 5 center per recycled container, have diverted more than seven billion containers from the state’s landfills since 2005 (when the DBC program went into effect).

The Hawai`i County Department of Environmental Management added that despite their shortcomings, which can be corrected, the programs have been the state’s most successful and eliminating them would “result in needless landfilling and incineration of valuable resources.”

Terry Telfer, president of Reynolds Recycling, pointed out that “the ten bottle-bill states nationwide recycle more than all the non-deposit states combined. Bottle bills, just like Hawai`i’s HI-5 law, is the only proven method that addresses landfill diversion and litter control at the same time. If you were to see a beverage container on the street or elsewhere, it would be gone the next time you passed by.”

Telfer also noted that the reason tons of glass are not being recycled is because of a lack of funding for ADF containers (wine, etc.), not HI-5 glass containers.

“Hawai`i’s HI-5 program has made the recycling industry the state’s largest exporter. Recycling saves energy. For every aluminum can recycled you save an energy equivalent of a cup of gasoline,” Telfer stated.

Others suggested several improvements to the programs, from increasing the ADF to meet the real costs of handling glass containers, to including wine and liquor containers in the DBC program, to merging the two programs. A number of bills introduced this session attempt to tackle the issue of providing adequate funding for glass container recycling.

SB 2003 would amend the definition of “deposit beverage” to include wine; SB 2991 would similarly add wine and spirits to the DBC program and require the DOH to establish an advisory committee on glass recycling to provide recommendations on how to best integrate the ADF program and DBC container program glass streams.

No hearing has been scheduled on either bill.

Rather than adding wine and spirits to the DBC program, House Bill 2251 proposed increasing the ADF for glass containers to $0.03 for containers less than two liters and $0.045 cents for containers larger than that. The current fee is $0.015 per container regardless of size.

Food and beverage industry-related companies opposed the measure. And while the DOH testified that it appreciated the attempt to provide the ADF program with more funding, it could not support the fee increase without more data.

“Making any change without analysis could potentially destabilize or bankrupt the program. The program does not collect the data necessary to adequately analyze the proposal,” the DOH stated in its written testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection.

The department added that a study quantifying all aspects of the program — the number of containers currently covered, number of containers in the proposed new category, average size/weight of both universes of containers, distribution of container sizes within each population, and shipping/processing costs to recycle the glass — would need to be done first.

Following the DOH’s suggestion, the committee on February 4 gutted the measure and replaced its contents with language directing the DOH to 1) assess the viability of the glass ADF program and report findings and recommendations to the Legislature; and (2) report to the Legislature on the department’s progress in adopting recommendations contained in the 2014 auditor’s report, “A Study to Identify Local Alternatives to Shipping Non-Deposit Glass Out of the State of Hawai`i.”

SB353, carried over from the 2015 session, would have also amended the ADF for glass containers to a tiered structure and would have required the auditor to audit the program. No hearing on the bill has been scheduled.

—Teresa Dawson

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