Recycling is a good thing, let's do what we can to support it

Fun Fact: Germany has the highest overall recycling rate in the world with more than 50% of their total municipal waste being recycled!

Fun Fact: Germany has the highest overall recycling rate in the world with more than 50% of their total municipal waste being recycled!

Let's talk about HI-5 bottle recycling and redemption. What is redemption, you ask? It is when a person returns the empty beverage container (HI-5 labeled glass, plastic, or aluminum) to a participating recycling center. You see, when we purchase those beverage items with the label of "HI-5", this means we are paying an extra 5 cent deposit per bottle upfront, which we can redeem for the equivalent cash back when the bottle is empty. The simple idea is to incentivize consumers to return the bottles to recycling centers such that they won't end up littering our streets, clogging up drains, or polluting the ocean. Unfortunately, Hawaiʻi has seen a marked decrease in bottle redemption over the last several years. We must address this issue and find solutions that incentivize folks to redeem their empties! 

With the 2018 legislative session is rapidly nearing its end, change is on the horizon for our local recycling system. We should continue to support bills proposing initiatives for sustainable recycling and reuse of plastic commodities, especially after China announced its effective ban on 24 various scrap materials, most notably plastics. This is the perfect opportunity for the City and County of Honolulu to examine its history with local recycling and the steady decrease in redemption rates.

Senator Jill Tokuda (D-Kaneohe) introduced SB 3099 as a vehicle to increase redemption, highlighting success in other states like Oregon and Michigan who have implemented a 10 cent deposit fee. Michigan has shown an average of a 93% redemption from 2014 to 2016, and since its newest implementation last April 2017, Oregon has seen a jump from 64% to 82%. SB 3099 not only calls for an increase in deposit fees if the redemption rate falls below 85% after two consecutive years, but is also reinforced with 2 new positions for the deposit beverage program, established funds for a plastics recycling program, and gives more responsibility to the Department of Health in benchmarking return rates to 85%, and annually reporting fundings to the legislature.

Public approval of the possible new 10 cent deposit fees are up in the air for several reasons. Lack of knowledge about statistics included in the redemption rates, as well as decreased access to redemption facilities are among them. Redemption rates as stated above include all returns to redemption facilities, as well as the smaller 2% rate from residential blue bins. These blue bins are only offered on Oʻahu, whereas neighboring islands are required to return all recyclables to specified redemption facilities. This is concerning to locals who already have a difficult time with drop off and retrieving deposits from very limited facility options, possibly hindering redemption rates to begin with. Statistics show the declining rate of redemption directly correlates with the closing down of facilities and decreased access to redemption sites.

In addition to funding for a plastics recycling program, funding should also go to aiding additional facilities on neighbor islands, as well as possible research into new redemption sites (e.g., grocery stores). There are options for us to create a sustainable and resilient recycling system, beginning with the support and initiating the conversation on stricter recycling practices. Passing SB 3099 is a necessary first step to addressing these issues, keeping the conversation going with regards to the importance of recycling, maintaining the overall cultural conditioning to recycle HI-5 bottles, and to incentivize residents to redeem their recyclable bottles.

State Senate Bill Would Increase Can and Bottle Deposits, 3/19/2018, Honolulu Star Advertiser

To learn more about Senate Bill 3099, click here.