UPDATE: May 11, 2022: An EPR for packaging bill in Hawaii, HB 2399, failed to pass before the state's legislative session adjourned last week. The measure had already passed both chambers of the legislature, but got caught up in the final conference committee process to reconcile two versions of the bill. The bill would have required major packaging producers to pay into a temporary fund for local waste reduction and reuse projects.
Kristine Kubat, executive director of nonprofit recycling education organization Recycle Hawaii, said supporters are regrouping to reintroduce the bill again next session with hopes that new legislators and a new governor could help tip the scales.
April 14: A unique extended producer responsibility for packaging bill in Hawaii is expected to soon head to Gov. David Ige’s desk. HB 2399, led by Rep. Nicole Lowen, would require major packaging producers to pay into a temporary fund meant for waste reduction and reuse projects at the county level.
The model is different than other EPR programs proposed or passed in the United States so far. The “transitional” program is meant to sunset after five years and prioritizes projects with reuse elements. It does not include a producer responsibility organization, a common model in other state programs, instead encouraging major producers to partner with local governments to innovate on reuse strategies.
Local governments and environmental groups say the emphasis on local control is the best way to reduce the volume of packaging waste landfilled by 50% by 2026 and 80% by 2030, goals set by the bill. But the beverage industry, the American Chemistry Council and some local businesses say the bill is too vague on how producers would need to comply.
If passed, the bill would be the first EPR for packaging bill to make it to the finish line this year. Numerous states have introduced EPR for packaging models in recent months, but most have failed to gain traction. Colorado recently introduced its EPR bill, while New York’s legislature is likely to debate two competing EPR bills in the remaining months of its session after Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to include EPR in the state budget didn't survive negotiations. Maryland's legislative session ended this week without passing its EPR bill.
Hawaii’s legislature is currently working through final bill specifics, which could change some details before it is expected to be sent to the governor’s office, said Kristine Kubat, executive director of nonprofit recycling education organization Recycle Hawaii, who has worked closely with bill sponsors.
Under Hawaii’s bill, certain producers of “fast-moving consumer goods” would need to register with the Department of Health and pay a tax of $150 per ton of packaging put into the local market each year.
Each of Hawaii’s counties would be able to use the funds for reuse and waste reduction programs, but first would be required to develop a needs assessment describing what steps the county must take to meet the bill’s waste reduction goals, according to the bill.
Instead of taxing most packaging producers that sell in the state, the bill would apply only to companies that either have global annual gross sales above $500 million or generate a total of more than 10,000 metric tons of packaging waste a year. “We’re targeting the large, large companies. Not a single company based in Hawaii is going to pay into this fund,” said Kubat. Some products, such as medicines, would be exempt, according to the bill.
Most packaging EPR bills moving through other state legislatures, as well as the bills passed in Maine and Oregon last year, involve some version of a producer responsibility organization model. This system requires producers to join the PRO and pay into an ongoing program meant to cover the cost of managing packaging at the end of life. Depending on the state’s model, the producers may maintain some level of control over how to run the program.
Kubat said the PRO model doesn’t make sense for Hawaii, in part because most PRO models focus on managing packaging that has already been generated. “Right now, packaging is not designed to be reused, composted, or recycled. It's designed to be wasted,” she said.
Hawaii needs a model focused on waste reduction and reuse, she said. The state has an isolated recycling market, limited space to manage materials, complex shipping logistics off-island, and vastly different systems each island uses to manage such waste, she said. Currently, material that isn’t recycled goes to one of the islands’ municipal landfills or to H-POWER, a waste-to-energy facility run by Covanta on Oahu. Oahu is also in the process of siting a new landfill, which was recently complicated by a Honolulu Board of Water Supply presentation indicating the proposed site options all could threaten the island's water supply, Honolulu Civil Beat reported.
Though many details would need to be worked out in a rulemaking process after the bill is passed, Kubat said the county's needs assessments will help drive the next steps for how the state will reach the bill’s packaging reduction targets. She envisions that producers and the state could work together on innovative reuse programs that could target Hawaii’s unique business sectors, such as the hotel and tourism industries, among other ideas.
The bill has received broad support from Hawaii’s counties, which see the bill as a way to creatively reduce waste through a temporary injection of funding while retaining local control over their waste and recycling programs.
Ramzi Mansour, director of Hawaii County's Department of Environmental Management, said the bill helps honor the islands’ unique geography and diverse waste management systems. “Each county is best suited to address its own solid waste issues, and creating a mechanism where producers work directly with each county, supported by state oversight and enforcement, can address longstanding issues due to population density and shipping logistics on the neighbor islands,” Mansour said in his testimony.
“Hawaii’s EPR bill is so critical because it opens the eyes of people who thought there was no alternative” to PRO models, said Neil Seldman, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who supports decentralized recycling programs. Though Seldman supports the bill, he believes it could be stronger if it also set minimum recycling standards, a facet that’s similar to a yet-to-be introduced EPR bill in New York.
WM, which has limited operations in the state, did not take a position on the bill, but several small curbside recycling companies have voiced support. Nick Riznyk, founder of Hana Hou Recycling, said during a hearing that the bill could help create sustainable programs to divert plastics from the landfill and help haulers and scrap consolidators cover rising costs to collect, process and ship plastics.
Environmental groups in Hawaii such as Clean the Pacific, Kauai Climate Action Coalition, Zero Waste O’ahu and others also support the bill.
Major opponents of the bill include American Beverage, which sees the proposal as “simply an indiscriminate tax" that would be passed on to local retailers and customers, wrote David Thorp, vice president of state government affairs for the association’s western region, in written testimony. He said the beverage industry is an important part of Hawai’i’s economy, as manufacturing and bottling plants on the islands are major employers.
Some consumer goods associations, including members of the Hawaii Food Industry Association, also worry an EPR program would raise prices of some consumer goods during a difficult global supply chain period. The Glass Packaging Institute and AMERIPEN were also opposed.
The American Chemistry Council has also spoken against the bill, saying it is vague on too many critical details such as producers’ expected compliance obligations and measurements of county recycling waste and diversion data. Tim Shestek, ACC’s senior director of state affairs, said in written testimony that the bill also doesn’t give enough detail on how funds would be distributed.
Craig Hirai, director of Hawaii’s Department of Budget and Finance, added in a memo that it was difficult to determine whether the special fund established for the EPR program would be self-sustaining throughout the course of the program.
Hawaii's legislative session is expected to end May 5, and those familiar with the bill believe it will move to the governor's desk before that time.