By NANCY COOK LAUER
Despite bringing in an extra $4.5 million annually from a hike in the beverage container fee, the state Department of Health has put the counties on notice: they won’t be getting money back for their HI-5 programs next year.
For Hawaii County, that spells an additional $765,000 that must be made up in the county budget if administrators don’t want to end HI-5 recycling centers at 10 transfer stations and cut two full-time recycling employees. The new budget, which is currently being worked on by county departments, goes into effect July 1.
The state program operates by charging 6.5 cents per HI-5 bottle or can, with 5 cents returned to the customer if the container is brought back to a redemption center. The other 1.5 cents goes to state administrative costs.
“We’re drinking the sodas and the water. It’s our money,” county Recycling Coordinator Linda Peters told the Environmental Management Commission on Wednesday. “The fight’s not over.”
The state raised the deposit fee by one-half cent in September, citing increased costs as more people participate in the program. Statewide, about 77 percent of the 900 million HI-5 containers purchased annually get turned back in, saving space in landfills.
While the state promotes recycling, the increased popularity of the program has also raised administrative costs. Last year, before the increase was implemented, the state took in about $55 million while spending about $59 million.
The HI-5 grants to the counties are discretionary, but the state Department of Health has thus far been giving the counties grants. DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo told Stephens Media on Wednesday the counties have asked to meet with Deputy Director Gary Gill on the issue, and that meeting is expected to take place soon.
Gill was not available to talk directly with the newspaper.
“The program itself has been fiscally challenged. The counties are asking for the funding, and we’re not providing the money to the counties but we have not made a decision yet,” Okubo said.
Okubo said there are “fiscal, accountability, legal and other issues” factoring into any decision about whether counties will get some, none or all they’re accustomed to getting.
Peters said the state this year also provided Hawaii County $100,000 for electronics recycling. It also continued two programs by providing $129,200 for glass recycling in the advanced disposal fee program and $55,000 for used motor oil recycling.
Prior to this year, however, the only way Hawaii County was able to participate in the state electronics recycling program was to mail their televisions, printers and computers to Honolulu.
“We just know from our e-waste experience the state’s not able to serve our neighbor island effectively,” Peters said.
Peters worries that state officials in Honolulu don’t realize how geographically different Hawaii Island is from Oahu. The Health Department has had complaints from for-profit recycling companies about government subsidizing their competition, but Peters is concerned that removing the HI-5 centers from far-flung transfer stations will result in more people just throwing their recyclables in the trash, rather than making a long drive to a commercial recycling center.
“We want them to be one-stop,” Peters said about how transfer stations are being set up with areas for green waste recycling, mixed recycling, HI-5 redemption and reuse centers. “We call them convenience centers, and we need them to be convenient.”
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