Consumers Short-Changed By Recycling Program

Daniel Silva
Daniel Silva
Rose Lugo
Rose Lugo
Laurence Lau
Laurence Lau
Recyclers must often wait an hour or more to redeem cans and bottles
Recyclers must often wait an hour or more to redeem cans and bottles

Aug 25, 2006 02:25 AM

by Minna Sugimoto

PEARL CITY (KHNL) -- The state takes six cents and promises to give back five. But when folks participating in the HI-5 recycling program discovered they weren't getting full refunds, they turned to KHNL News 8's Talk Story for help.

People are complaining about a process that involves weighing the beverage containers, instead of actually counting them. The state says it's always been allowed under the law, but the redemption centers may be using that option more now. Consumers say the process is unfair.

They deal with the harsh sun, they cope with the long lines, to collect the five-cent refund the state promised them. But some say the "five" part of HI-5 doesn't always kick in.

"We've been getting short-changed," Daniel Silva, Pearl City resident, said.

He says it happens when he brings in 50 or more beverage containers. Instead of counting them and paying five cents for each one, workers ballpark the number based on weight.

"We count them one time, and the weight was lesser than the count," Silva said. "So we wanted the count and they wouldn't give us the count."

We decide to see for ourselves. We place 200 aluminum cans in a bag. Nothing unusual, just the standard soda and juice cans. We also bag 200 plastic bottles.

Mike and Rose Lugo turn in our bottles. Their grandson, Alex, takes care of the cans. For them, it'll be a long wait.

"Supposed to be convenient," Silva said. "But sometimes, we wait over one hour."

Our volunteers make it to the front of the line. Each should return with 10 dollars.

"I have eight dollars and 60 cents," Alex Lugo, who turned in the cans, said.

"Seven fifty-five," Rose Lugo, who handled the plastic bottles, said.

"If you think about it, for 200 items, you should have gotten 10 dollars," this reporter reminded her. "How does that make you feel?"

"All that hard work? It's a little unfair," she replied.

We take our results to the state Department of Health, which manages the recycling program.

"I'm a little surprised by the aluminum because we think the aluminum rate is the most standard and the most reliable," Laurence Lau, department deputy director, said. "There are a tremendous variety of plastic bottle sizes and weights. So plastic is actually the hardest one, and I'm not as surprised about the plastic."

But what happened to the state's promise of five cents per recycled container?

"We are going to have to do another study and check this rate again to see if we can make it more accurate," Lau said.

The state says there are two options if you want an accurate count. You could feed your beverage containers one by one into a reverse vending machine, or you could go to a redemption center with fewer than 50 containers and ask the workers to manually count them.