KAPAA — Come September, a bottle of soda might cost you a little bit less at the register.
That’s because the 1.5 cent container fee that the state Department of Health collects from distributors of recyclable beverages is set to drop to a cent on Sept. 1.
A small savings could be passed on to consumers, since distributors typically shift the container fee to retailers who in turn pass it on the customers who buy bottled water, beer and other beverages that are part of the Hawaii Deposit Beverage Container Program.
“Customers may see a reduced rate in the amount that they are charged for the container fee,” said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo. “Retailers should not be charging more than 1 cent after Sept. 1.”
The reason for the price decrease, Okubo said, is that fewer people are participating in the HI-5 program and redeeming their nickel per container. The container fee is used by the DOH to cover costs associated with running the program.
More than 900 million beverage containers are sold annually in Hawaii. As an incentive to recycle, the HI-5 program places a 5 cent redeemable deposit on each beverage container. Consumers get their 5 cents back when they return the containers to a redemption center.
Since January 2005, the program has led residents to recycle a little more than 70 percent of applicable beverage containers sold in the state. Recycling removes containers from the waste stream and reduces litter in the community.
At its highest point, the statewide redemption rate was 78.7 percent in 2009. Since then, the number of containers recycled through the program has been on a slow and steady decline. The estimated 2015 redemption rate is between 68 and 69 percent.
The program no longer needs the extra half cent it started collecting when the redemption rate was higher in 2012 to keep operations running smoothly.
“It’s not that much of a difference, but it has been going down and we are concerned about it,” Okubo said. “We want to encourage people to recycle and we’ll look into what possible ways that we can increase the redemption rate.”
At Kauai Community Recycling Services’ Kapaa location on Friday, $200 was handed out to residents who redeemed their containers for a nickel.
“This has been a really slow day,” said Bill Prout, co-owner of the company, which also has locations in Kilauea, Koloa and Kekaha.
On an average day, the Kapaa location hands out $600 to customers, he said.
Redemption rates at the company’s four locations are generally increasing. Prout estimates a 10 percent spike in redemption this year over last.
To give an idea of what a busy day is like, Prout read off some recent stats: On Tuesday, customers at the company’s Kilauea location redeemed about $1,300 worth of containers. On Wednesday, customers in Kekaha redeemed about $2,700. The Koloa location handed out about $2,000 on Thursday.
“More people are recycling on Kauai,” Prout said. “There are not a lot of jobs out here. People want their nickel.”
Tiara Wade of Lihue said the nickel incentive makes it well worth it to recycle.
“I come when my apartment fills up, usually about every three weeks,” she said Friday while dropping off her recycling at Reynolds Recycling in Nawiliwili. “I also recycle for my mom. Everything goes into the baby fund.”
Perhaps Kauai is the exception to the rule. Nonetheless, state officials are trying to understand why redemption is down so they can address those issues and encourage HI-5 program participation to rise.
One potential factor DOH officials are looking at is the decrease in the number of redemption centers across the islands. In 2013 there were 110 certified redemption centers statewide, according to Okubo. Today there are 91.
With fewer redemption centers, recycling through the HI-5 programs becomes less convenient for residents. The theory is that some former program participants have given it up altogether.
“What we have been hearing is that some of the redemption centers have been unable to renew their lease when their leases come up,” Okubo said.
Another factor the state is examining is the accuracy of the rate given to program participants who measure their containers by weight. As plastic bottles get thinner and the variation of bottle size increases, the rates may not accurately represent the number of containers.
“We need to conduct another study,” Okubo said. “The last time we did a study was 2010 so we are looking at doing another one.”