Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Why Michigan’s bottle law succeeds but Hawaii’s bottle law fails

by Larry Geller

An article in today’s paper indicates that redemption rates are declining for recyclable containers in Hawaii:

The redemption rate — the percentage of HI-5 containers returned versus the number sold — started at 67.6 percent and climbed to 78.7 percent by 2009. In 2013 the rate was 75 percent before dropping over the next two years to 68.4.

The state pockets the deposit for any containers not redeemed, with the money going toward program administration.

[Star-Advertiser p. B1, Container fee to drop amid declining rate of redemption, 7/28/2015]

The article speculates that the decline may be related to a reduction in the  number of recycling centers but ends with another theory:

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, said returning HI-5 containers to an inconveniently located redemption center, rather than the grocery store as some states require, may be too high of a hurdle for some folks to bother.

Mikulina, who fought for the bottle bill when he led the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter, said another factor in the declining recycling rate might be the diminishing value of the nickel. Maybe a larger deposit is needed, he said. In Michigan, where the deposit is 10 cents, the redemption rate is 95 percent.

Unfortunately, the paper didn’t go that extra mile. Perhaps the reason is that the Michigan law is based on retail store redemption, which was rejected when Hawaii passed its own law. Retail stores, of course, advertise heavily in newspapers, so better not to offend them (?).

The Michigan law is different also in how the funds from their bottle program are disbursed. Here’s a link to a history of the law in table form, and note that unredeemed deposits go  “75% to state for envt'l programs, 25% to retailers.” So perhaps retailers are inclined to cooperate.

We could re-do the law. Here is more detail on the Michigan law, in a short pdf file that state legislators should find easy to understand.

Why not imitate success?

Hawaii’s bottle law was criticized not only for failing to require retail stores to redeem returned containers but for the way the recycling centers were created. Not only are they inconvenient, but there were, from the beginning, noise issues and long lines of people waiting to redeem their bags of containers. Also, it was my observation that recycling centers did not even check the bottles for whether they were redeemable under the law, and of course the state took them at their word and just cut checks to them for whatever amount they asked. There were several articles on this here on Disappeared News.

Five audits (see links below) have found the program is badly flawed and could be losing millions of dollars. And of course, consumers would rather just bring the containers back to the supermarket next trip.

One recycling center located across from the condo where we live so infuriated residents with its constant loud crashing sound caused by dumping and handling glass bottles that it was the subject of several community meetings to which our state legislators were invited. As a result of the meetings, the noise abated quite a bit, and shortly thereafter the recycling center disappeared entirely.

Retail store recycling would be so much better… and could be as successful for Hawaii as it is for Michigan.


Conclusion: “This systemic flaw, coupled with the absence of a detailed audit function, has exposed the program to abuse and risk of fraud since program inception.”

Indeed, from fiscal years 2013 to 2014, the program paid $2.6 million in deposit refunds for 3.5 million pounds of recycled materials that cannot be accounted for.

Auditor Still Not Happy With Deposit Beverage Container Program (Civil Beat, 4/15/2015)

State under fire for mishandling of glass recycling program (KHON, 12/31/2014)

Hawaii audit exposes bottle bill issues (Resource Recycling, 12/12/2012]


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