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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 10, 2003

Mayor seeks curbside recycling pickups

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

With 1.5 million tons of trash to deal with annually and increasingly less landfill space to dump it in, Mayor Jeremy Harris hopes to combat O'ahu's waste problem with monthly residential recycling pickups and automated pickup of green waste.

The city recycles about 500,000 tons of waste annually, about one-third of the total municipal solid waste, but city officials hope that the two curbside recycling initiatives will mean an additional 69,000 tons of waste will be recycled by 2005.

Although that may mean only a slight drop in the amount of waste going to landfill, the curbside efforts would increase Honolulu's recycling rate from 32 percent to 38 percent, which exceeds the national average of 30 percent reported by the Environmental Protection Agency and would surpass the EPA's goal of 35 percent by 2005.

City information on recycling

For more information on the city's waste disposal and recycling program, visit www.opala.org or call 692-5410 to request a Taking Care of Garbage handbook.

And any drive to recycle waste is considered a step in the right direction, city officials and environmentalists say.

"As island people, we understand well the reality of finite natural resources," Harris said in his State of the City address last month "If we are to make our island more sustainable, we have to change from a pattern of consumption and waste to one of conservation and reuse."

Reducing the waste stream going into the island's only landfill would be critical.

The Waimanalo Gulch landfill is weeks away from reaching capacity. With no immediate alternatives, the city will likely be given permission to expand the landfill and continue operation for five years, but still must find a long-term solution.

Tim Steinberger, the city's director of environmental services, said the city is exploring technology that could eliminate the need for another landfill, while also trying to reduce the waste stream going into Waimanalo Gulch.

With that in mind, the city hopes to persuade more residents to recycle by offering monthly curbside pickup of bottles and plastics and making the city's biweekly pickup of green waste easier for residents and more cost-effective for the city.

Other ways to reduce trash

City Council Chairman Gary Okino said he needs to see more specifics, particularly costs, before he takes a position on the administration's recycling plans, but added "anything you can do for recycling is good."

He noted, however, that increased recycling won't solve the city's trash problem. "The recycling will help, but I think the ultimate solution has to be a big idea like plasma torch technology," he said.

Sierra Club-Hawai'i Director Jeff Mikulina, who also supports further recycling, worries that plasma torch technology, which converts solid waste to gas and road material called "glassphalt," won't be the panacea everyone is hoping for.

The city's plan to make recycling pickups in residential neighborhoods is a positive step toward encouraging people to reduce, reuse and recycle, Mikulina said. "The more you take out the hassle factor, the more likely people are to recycle," he said.

However, the city should also look at eliminating waste at the early stage, for instance, by reducing the amount of packaging used by retail big-box stores, Mikulina said. "You'd really get some bang for your buck by avoiding it in the first place," he said.

Easy to recycle green waste

Increasing green waste recycling is a good idea because green waste is the easiest to recycle, can be done locally and can be turned into other products, Mikulina said.

About 10 tons of green waste is recycled per day, and the city hopes to triple that by 2005 through a public-private partnership.

While three-person city crews collect green waste in O'ahu residential neighborhoods twice a month, plans are in the works to convert to an automated pickup service, which would require only one person to operate the truck. Steinberger said the automated service will mean an end to bagging and binding the green waste, a convenience the city hopes will persuade more people to separate their green waste from their regular trash.

No costs determined yet

Details are still being worked out, such as whether residents will use their current trash receptacles for the automated collection, or whether the city will issue them new ones, he said.

Steinberger had no estimates for the initial costs for converting to the automated system, but noted the system would reduce personnel costs and make green waste pickup more cost-effective.

He added that the city was also working to establish more partnerships with the private sector. "We're not looking to increase our operational costs. We're looking just to do things in a smarter way," he said.

The city brings its green waste to Hawaiian Earth Products, which turns it into compost that is sold in bulk to landscapers, parks and golf courses, Steinberger said. "Right now, demand exceeds supply."

Although the city does not make money from the compost, "what we make is additional space at this time in the landfill," he said.

With no alternative in sight, the city has had to ask for a permit to raise the height of the Waimanalo Gulch landfill and plans to seek approval to expand the landfill by 15 acres and operate it for another five years. By the end of the five years, Steinberger said the city hopes to eliminate the need for a new landfill.

Through new technology and recycling, "I think you'll see there will come a time when a landfill is only used in extreme measures," he said.

In addition to the waste that is diverted through recycling, the H-Power plant processes about 600,000 tons of trash a year, converting it to energy to power 60,000 homes and reducing the volume of trash by 90 percent for a total of 109,500 tons per year.

Another 400,000 tons of trash goes to the landfill each year, including construction and demolition debris and industry waste. Steinberger said it was unclear whether it would be cost-effective for a plasma torch facility to process this kind of waste.

Cash value on bottles

By the end of the year, Steinberger said the city also hopes to start monthly curbside pickup of bottles and plastics.

The Legislature last year passed a bottle bill that will place a refundable 5-cent deposit for beverage containers beginning in 2005. The refunds could be used to help pay for the city's curbside recycling program.

"If we're picking up those bottles and there's a cash value associated with them, then that should be a fund that is available to the city when we turn them in," Steinberger said.

He could not comment on what would happen to the program if Gov. Linda Lingle successfully persuades lawmakers to repeal the bottle bill this session.

Mikulina said bottle bills have worked well in concert with curbside pickup in other municipalities. "It's something we definitely support," he said.

Noting that Hawai'i has not met recycling goals set by state lawmakers — 25 percent in 1995 and 50 percent in 2000 — Mikulina thinks residential pickups could persuade more people to recycle.

The state Department of Health said the 2002 rate across the state was 26.7 percent.

Few want to pay for pickup

A private recycling company that offers residential pickup once a week for subscribers has found that not many people are interested in paying for the convenience of leaving their recyclable newspaper, aluminum cans, jars and bottles in front of their homes.

For $52 a year and a can deposit, Horizon Recycling Center makes weekly pickups in Makakilo, Kapolei, 'Ewa Beach, Mililani and Waikele.

A year after starting the service, however, Horizon has roughly 600 customers, only a fraction of the 6,000 it had anticipated.

"It hasn't really taken off like we hoped," said Dale Mosby, recycle coordinator. "A lot of people just don't realize the situation in the landfills and just don't realize how much recycling will help."

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.