Glass in the trash

A lack of funding for recycling non-Hi5 glass has forced businesses to begin throwing their wine and spirit bottles out with the trash.

Manjari Fergusson

Since June, 60 tons of non-deposit glass on Oahu that used to get recycled has ended up in landfills instead. After it became apparent that there was inadequate funding to keep running the program that subsidized the cost of sending non-Hi5 bottles to the mainland for recycling, the companies that collected the glass stopped doing so.

The Hi-5 recycling program takes care of most regular bottles like beer bottles and aluminum cans, but there’s another system that deals with non-Hi5 glass containers like wine and liquor bottles.

According to the Department of Environmental Services, Oahu generates about 5,000 to 6,000 tons of non-deposit glass per year, and about half is collected and recycled through the city’s curbside collection program. The curbside program is not being disrupted, and all that glass will still be recycled.

Liquor-serving establishments were told by the city in early May that bottle collectors would no longer be able to pick up the non-Hi5 bottles because they wouldn’t get paid enough for them.

Lori Kahikina, director of Environmental Services, says the city was forced to reduce its subsidy rate once the glass recycling fund was depleted.

As it is now, the state runs a program that takes in 1.5 cents per bottle, called an advance disposal fee (ADF), but that rate is only half of what’s required, according to Kahikina, and hasn’t been raised in over 15 years, while recycling has grown more popular and costs have risen.

“We had been trying to stretch the fund for years hoping for legislative action to raise the ADF,” Kahikina said. “Hopefully, the legislature will pass the increase next session and the programs can be restored with sufficient funding.”

What’s Being Done?

While there have been legislative attempts to fix the problem of inadequate fundings, the bills have ultimately died in committee.

Kahikina says the city is hopeful that the issue will be resolved in the next session, but in the meantime, a resolution adopted this year, Senate Concurrent Resolution 74, has resulted in the state putting together a task force that will audit the non-deposit glass recycling fund.

The task force, headed by the Department of Health, will include county officials, recycling companies and businesses that are affected, and will look at the viability of other options, such as local uses for glass recycling, as opposed to shipping the glass to the mainland, which represents most of the cost of recycling.

State auditors were accepting proposals up until July 21.

In the meantime, hotels, bars and restaurants have to put the bottles out with the regular trash—something that “feels very confusing and frustrating” to Josh Hancock, the co-owner of Downbeat Diner and Lounge in Chinatown.

The glass will be processed through the City’s H-POWER waste-to-energy facility, and ultimately end up at the landfill as non-combustible residue, according to Kahikina. 

The situation has made the trash pickup larger for Downbeat, which can lead to an increase in refuse pickup fees, but ultimately is an ethical burden that Hancock says they are forced to endure.

“Throwing glass in the trash goes against everything we were taught as children and young adults about recycling and sustainability,” Hancock says. “It was ingrained into us to always recycle glass, aluminum, paper and plastics. To throw glass in the trash to me and our employees feels wrong and anti-environmental and anti-sustainability.”

Downbeat in particular has been working with the state to be recognized as a green business says Hancock, and goes out of its way to use local produce and meat, along with refraining from using plastic bags or Styrofoam, and provides vegan and vegetarian options for everything on the menu.