Fallacies of the Bottle Bill
I would like to address the fallacies in Christopher Hawkins’ letter to editor (dated 4/25/2005) one at a time.
The first flaw in his argument is that this recycling boondoggle can provide “for a cleaner environment at no cost to consumers.” Mr. Hawkins says, “Five cents goes in from the consumer, five cents go back to them.” I really wish things were that easy. However, in order for you to get your 5 cents back, you have to spend time and money to clean, store and transport your redeemable bottles to recycling centers. The costs of doing so will eat into your refund. Thus, there is no even exchange of the 5 cents between the government and the consumer here.
Second, Mr. Hawkins implies that 30 cents for a six-pack should not be a big deal for all those with “$40,000 trucks and SUVs.” How about the little guy who doesn’t own a $40,000 truck or SUV? I am sure that he will cringe at the sight of 30 cents tacked on to the end of his grocery receipt. Here in Hawaii, I do not have the space in my small apartment to collect hundreds of cans, nor do I have a truck to transport them or the time between work and school to clean these containers, store them and then transport them. I am not lazy nor do I litter. Why should I pay for a crime that I did not commit? I am also sure that the cans I properly dispose of await someone with the resources to do what I cannot. This is a transfer of wealth.
At the same time, who is the government to decide how much I should cherish what I earned with my own blood, sweat and tears? If 30 cents is too little for the common man, then why don’t we just make the redeemable fee 31, 32, 40, 75 or a million cents? How do we measure when enough is enough? Am I being selfish for wanting to keep my own money for my family and myself, or is the government being selfish for wanting to take my money from me? Here in Hawaii, the program collects $2.5 million a month. In the first two months, it only paid out $300,000 in refunds in each month. That is $4.4 million left in government coffers. With that kind of money, I foresee more increases to Fono allowances. Politicians will benefit regardless if they intend to or not.
Third, the bottle bill is not ingrained in the mainland. It only exists in 11 states while the other 39 get along fine with private recycling centers. There is also a movement here in Hawaii to repeal the bottle bill. This is not without merit. The State of Hawaii failed to reimburse recycling companies promptly for redeemed containers, which then led to the closure of some redemption centers. Consumers also complained about long lines and inconvenient hours at the centers. Can we really expect the ASG to manage this system any better than the State of Hawaii? Do the people of American Samoa deserve to pay out of their own pockets to prepare containers and wait in long lines in order to get back what was rightfully theirs to begin with?
Fourth, privatization really does address the issue here, but Mr. Hawkins is right to say that it is not easy. Let us take two parks, one private and the other public. Throw trash in both parks on the same day. Now let us make a bet on which park will not have the same trash in it over the next few days. My money is on the park that depends on a clean environment to entice consumers. On the other hand, your public park manager gets a guaranteed paycheck, and that is cause of most of our problems.
I thank Christopher Hawkins and others for dedicating their time to the litter problem. However, their actions are not representative of government in American Samoa or around the world. I am not talking about government conspiracy here; I am talking about the nature of government. When your next paycheck does not rely on consumer satisfaction, society ends up with dismal results. Look at the LBJ, our schools, our parks, the Rainmaker, the golf course, and the litter on the streets, and tell me that you do not see the common thread that runs through all of these problems. The status quo is a no go, and privatization is a legitimate answer.
Lastly yet importantly, I want to remind people that when people are caught littering red handed, the party they owe compensation to should be the victim and not the government. This type of law enforcement on top of privatization will promote a cleaner environment at no cost to the consumer.