The Legislature Should Act On Reverse Vending Machines


About the Authors

Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh is the founder of the Islands Society. The views expressed are his own.

John Hemmings

John Hemmings is an adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. The views expressed are his own.


In the age of COVID-19, many policies that might have once seemed like a push in the right direction are becoming absolutely essential for the protection of our communities. The introduction of reverse vending machines is one such policy.

Reverse vending machines essentially consist of a machine that exchanges cans and bottles for deposits. Around the world, communities that mandate container deposits often mandate reverse vending machines. The state of Hawaii has not followed suit. That needs to change.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, reverse vending machines made a lot of sense for the state of Hawaii. They are known to encourage increased rates of recycling and can reduce the total costs associated with recycling.

Post-pandemic, reverse vending machines make even more sense. They not only can reduce people-to-people contact and mitigate against unsafe handling practices at recycling centers, they also can reduce rummaging through trash in search of used containers by some of our most vulnerable communities.

We actually came very close to getting reverse vending machines earlier this year.

Capitol Building Honolulu Legislature. 1 may 2017

Hawaii lawmakers at the Capitol still have time to pass SB 2721 on reverse vending machines.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In January, Sen. Mike Gabbard introduced Senate Bill 2721 SD1 HD1 (2020). Had this measure been adopted by the Hawaii Legislature, then our elected officials could have helped us to realize these benefits.

Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Although Sen. Gabbard’s measure was passed by four committees, the pandemic took center stage before reverse vending machines could be given their due consideration. And the measure was quietly dropped from the schedule.

Missed Opportunity

Now, the Department of Health is unable to implement this change without further legislative action. And, the earliest that can happen is next year.

Make no mistake about it: not introducing reverse vending machines was a missed opportunity for the people of Hawaii.

Fortunately, the Legislature can start righting that wrong this week.

Reverse vending machines speak to a range of issues that are important to our ohana.

The people of Hawaii deserve to know whether the adoption of reverse vending machines would help to slow the spread of communicable diseases across our state. And the Legislature has a mechanism to find out the answer to that question. It is the emergency COVID-19 appropriations currently being debated within the Legislature.

These include our desire to live in a clean and safe environment, a reflection of the pristine nature of our islands, and our commitment to helping our most vulnerable communities — both to protect them from the ravages of the pandemic and to safeguard one of their few sources of legitimate income.

For these reasons, the Hawaii Legislature should direct our relevant state agencies to determine the public health benefits of reverse vending machines and identify the implementation strategies that would best reflect the values of the people of Hawaii.

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About the Authors

Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh is the founder of the Islands Society. The views expressed are his own.

John Hemmings

John Hemmings is an adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. The views expressed are his own.


Latest Comments (0)

When I was living in Oregon in 1999 they already had them in all supermarkets - you get an instant receipt that you can use right there at the supermarket.  The idea that you have to drag massive bags of bottles and cans to some random location to wait in line is ridiculous.

gumpster · 1 month ago

Be careful what you wish for. They had these in the last place I lived, so you could return your empties right there in the back of the store -- how convenient! But the store was allowed to program the machine so it would only accept empties of products that were sold at that store, so you had to remember where you got them, or make a special trip to the recycling center.They were also slow, and noisy, and would not accept more than 24 empties. Good times.

shorttimer · 1 month ago

Yes, I'm one of people who spend endless sleepless nights worrying about reverse vending machines.  In this state, they'd probably take the entire vending machine once it was filled up and send it to the waste incinerator in Campbel industrial park.  

mtf1953 · 1 month ago

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