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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 2, 2008

Oahu about to ship out trash

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer


  • On average, O'ahu residents produce 9 pounds of trash per person every day, according to the state Department of Health.

  • In fiscal year 2006, O'ahu produced 1.76 million tons of solid waste, and diverted 542,747 tons for recycling or reuse. Most of the trash that is not diverted ends up in the landfill, although about 600,000 tons is burned each year in the city's waste-to-energy plant. The burning, however, creates ash that also must be disposed of in the landfill.

    O'ahu's trash

  • In 1991, the state established a waste stream reduction goal of 50 percent by 2000.

  • O'ahu kept 30.8 percent of its waste out of the landfill in fiscal year 2006, which ended June 30. That's down from the 41 percent in fiscal year 2005 and 35 percent in fiscal year 2004.

  • The Waimanalo Gulch Landfill opened in 1989 on 64.5 acres.

  • In 2003, then-Mayor Jeremy Harris' administration negotiated a deal to expand the dump by 21 acres and keep it open until 2009.

  • The city received approval this year to extend the landfill's life until November 2009 and recently completed a draft EIS ahead of plans to ask for another 92.5-acre expansion.

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    Following four years of discussion, the city is nearing the launch of a plan to ship 100,000 tons of trash each year from O'ahu to a Washington state landfill.

    Two companies that have been angling for the contract since the proposal was first discussed in late 2003 have received the necessary permits from state and federal officials to perform the service. And the City Council's budget committee recently approved $7 million to fund the project.

    One of the companies says it could begin bundling and shipping solid waste intended for the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill to the Mainland by the middle of October.

    The city hopes to start service by the middle of next year at the latest, although it still is accepting bids from interested companies through June 11.

    Jim Hodge, chief executive officer of Seattle-based Hawaiian Waste Systems, said his company has bought a 2.7 acre trans-shipment facility in Campbell Industrial Park, less than three-fourths of a mile from the landfill, and has received approval from the state Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin shipping O'ahu's trash.

    "We have a lot of both time and treasure involved in the Honolulu project and we will bid it aggressively," said Hodge, who represents one of the four companies that attended a presentation of the city's bid request in February. "We had to go through a very stringent regulatory process as well to make sure we could do what we were saying we could do. This is long-term solid waste management and it is a difficult subject."

    2,050 TONS PER WEEK

    Also bidding for the contract is Pacific Rim Environmental Resources, which is based in Washington. Company officials did not return calls seeking comment.

    The three-year contract, with an option for two additional years, requires the winning bidder to ship 2,050 tons of trash per week and up to 100,000 tons a year to a Mainland landfill.

    That's less than 6 percent of the total 1.76 million tons of solid waste O'ahu generates annually, but proponents say it's one of several alternatives that will slow the closure of the island's main landfill.

    The plan assumes the cost to ship trash to the Mainland will be between $70 and $75 per ton or $7 million to $7.5 million a year. By comparison, it costs less than $30 per ton to dump municipal solid waste into the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill.

    Also, if the contractor ships more than 100,000 tons in a given year, the contractor will be paid 90 percent of total annual operating and maintenance costs per additional ton.

    The latest state Health Department data released in January show O'ahu kept 30.8 percent of its waste out of the landfill in fiscal year 2006. That's down from the 41 percent in fiscal year 2005 and 35 percent in fiscal year 2004.

    In fiscal year 2006, O'ahu produced 1.76 million tons of solid waste, diverting only 542,747 tons for recycling or reuse.


    On May 13, the city told the council committee on planning and sustainability that it was extending to June 11 a deadline for accepting bids for the service.

    Eric S. Takamura, city environmental services director, said shipping is among several steps the city wants to take to handle its growing trash problem.

    "The larger plan is to expand H-Power and purchase the facility, so it can handle more tonnage of waste per year. This in turn, will divert a substantial amount of waste from Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill while generating valuable electricity," said Takamura.

    Shipping trash to the Mainland is an interim solution for diversion of waste from the landfill, Takamura said.

    Several Mainland municipalities, including New York City and Anchorage, Alaska, ship trash to remote landfills.

    In fact, 10 cities in Alaska ship more than 600,000 tons of trash per year to the same landfill in Roosevelt, Wash., that would service Hawai'i.

    Originally, 10 companies expressed interest in shipping Honolulu's trash, but after the city's official proposal went out, only two bidders remained.

    That's not a concern for City Council member Todd Apo, who represents the area of O'ahu that is home to the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill. Apo said the program is moving forward.

    "The reason I have confidence this will get done is that the mayor has made a public commitment to do this," Apo said. "The administration was basically opposed to shipping initially but that has changed in the last six to 12 months."

    City Council member Gary H. Okino, chairman of the council's planning and sustainability committee, said the price of shipping trash is reasonable.

    "The ultimate purpose is that we don't have to go to another landfill and I think the $7 million is reasonable because whatever we can ship we should ship," Okino said. Okino said he considers shipping trash a short-term solution.

    Some criticize the city's plan, saying a long-term solution is needed or the county could face the same problems with trash that it now faces with aging sewers.

    City Councilman Donovan M. Dela Cruz, who has been on the council since the start of trash shipping discussions four years ago, said he is still waiting for a 25-year solid waste management master plan, which is overdue by a year.

    "For the council to deal with these things Band-Aid by Band-Aid, shipping, then the permit for (extending the life of) the landfill, that's not going to help us do things long term that's the frustrating part," said Dela Cruz. "You can try a lot of things short term but in the long term you have to spend the money. You have to come up with a plan and start to work your plan. What is the long-term goal? We have to have (more) serious discussions."

    Companies interested in shipping Honolulu's trash told the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they want to compress rubbish into bundles wrapped in air-tight plastic, then haul it on barges across more than 2,000 miles of ocean.


    The barges would be towed up the Columbia River to the port of Roosevelt, Wash., where the garbage would be loaded onto trucks and hauled to the 2,500-acre Roosevelt Regional Landfill, the state's largest dump.

    Unless a barge were to capsize, the pollution risks would be minimal, according to a 2006 environmental assessment by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

    And the barges would travel too slowly to pose much risk of colliding with whales or sea turtles, according to the report.

    A second 2006 study by the agency found that the risk of introducing insects or other pests to Washington would be "insignificant" because pests would suffocate in the air-tight garbage bales or be killed by the change in climate.

    Despite the studies and guarantees, environmental groups object to the plan.

    "We have to support an intensive recycling program," said Henry Curtis, director of Life of the Land. "If material has to be disposed of, Life of the Land strongly believes that it should be done in a way that minimizes greenhouse gas emissions. Exporting trash to a large and cheap Mainland landfill is not the answer."

    Others say that the exporting of trash to another state absolves citizens of the responsibility for cleaning up after themselves.

    "Shipping off trash is an absolute waste. There is this overarching environmental ethic about the trash that we produce," said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club's Hawai'i office. "It's antithetical to ... taking care of our own to send our 'opala thousands of miles away. We have to deal with our problems here at home."

    Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.