State Rep. Nicole Lowen said she’ll continue pursuing increased producer responsibility for the waste their products produce, despite the failure to get her colleagues’ support of a bill she sponsored this year.
Lowen, a Democrat representing Kailua-Kona, Holualoa, Kalaoa and Honokohau, addressed the county Environmental Management Commission on Wednesday. She said it’s not unusual for a new idea to take years to catch on, and rather than pushing a bill immediately setting a fee on producers, she’ll ask for the Department of Health to conduct a study examining the economic ramifications of such a plan.
“It’s a big change and there’s a lot of unanswered questions still and increased costs,” Lowen said. “I’m not sure a study will reveal any earthshaking information we don’t already know, but we can study the economics of it.”
Lowen, chairwoman of the state House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, is part of a national working group that’s been working on the concept. While Maine, Washington state and California have made more progress implementing a plan, it could behoove Hawaii to follow in their footsteps rather than starting from square one, she said.
“This elevates this conversation nationally and puts producers on notice,” Lowen said.
Extended producer responsibility, or EPR, is an international effort to get producers to shoulder more of the disposal burden that currently falls to government and its taxpayers.
The program charges producers a fee for packaging of products with high disposal costs such as electronics, batteries, paint and medications. The money goes to a fund that governments can tap into for waste disposal.
The extra fees are not only to help pay the disposal costs but also as an incentive for producers to reduce waste-stream impacts.
“I think the idea of EPR is pretty brilliant — a way to turn off the tap or try to turn off the tap of the waste stream,” Commissioner Melissa Cardwell said. “If we hold companies responsible for their product and their packaging, it might actually change the way they produce their product and their packaging.”
Lowen’s HB 1316 was supported by environmental groups and some local government officials, but opposed by many business associations and packaging producers.
“The cost incurred with measures like this would be passed on to the customer and businesses — especially the smaller local businesses — who will not be able to absorb this additional cost,” Tina Yamaki, president of Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said in Feb. 9 testimony to Lowen’s committee. “As a result, the cost of living in Hawaii will increase and customers will turn to other online vendors who do not have Hawaii ties. More stores will close and more of our friends, family and neighbors will no longer be employed.”