Hawaii's legislative leaders agreed April 24 to put off action on their bottle bill until January, on the condition that industry develop a plan to boost container recycling dramatically.
Both chambers in the Hawaii Legislature overwhelmingly had passed a watered-down bottle bill that was essentially symbolic — it said container deposits would not be enacted until 2050.
But that is basically a legislative placeholder, and it sets up a possible showdown in January if the beverage industry's plan does not pass muster with enough legislators. The sponsor of the bottle bill said she wants to see a plan that will raise recycling rates to 75 percent, for example.
Whether there is enough support to pass a substantive bottle bill is hard to say.
The coalition of bottle-bill supporters for the first time includes local government and state agencies charged with waste handling. The state also does not have curbside recycling, which bottle-bill supporters argue makes deposits much more economically attractive to local government.
But the bill has run into opposition from the beverage and retail industry, and from legislators concerned about the cost and impact on those businesses.
One industry lobbyist, Richard Botti, president of the Hawaii Food Industry Association, predicts a bottle bill will pass the Legislature. The Legislature is putting "a gun to the head" of the beverage industry and making it come up with a plan that gets recycling rates close to the level of bottle bills, he said.
"The Legislature is saying, `Fine. You don't like this, what do you want?'"
Rep. Hermina Morita, a Democrat who sponsored the bottle bill, said, "If the industry doesn't give us a plan that we like, the chance of something moving next year is very good."
Morita wants industry to come up with a plan that will boost the recycling rate to about 75 percent.
Supporters may be fighting an uphill battle, since no state has adopted a new bottle bill since 1986.
Judith Thorman, vice president of state and local affairs with the National Soft Drink Association in Washington, said a bottle bill would cost $30 million and recycle less than 1 percent of the solid waste stream. Morita disputed those figures, and said beverage containers account for 4 percent of the waste stream by weight.
Thorman said the state would be better off focusing on the whole picture and developing a comprehensive plan. The industry will fund a study, and Thorman said representatives look forward to meeting with legislators.
But some local officials seem skeptical.
Suzanne Jones, recycling coordinator for Honolulu city and county, said the two sides disagree on how much of the cost of recycling should be borne by government and how much by industry.
"Previously, the industry has promised to assist in voluntary recovery and other recycling programs, only to decide later that it does not work for them," said Genevieve Salmonson, director of the state's Office of Environmental Quality Control. "A comprehensive solid waste management plan is only another delay tactic and will probably become another broken promise."