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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Trash fee can yield better waste controls

The City Council, seeking to head off the fiscal sinkhole ahead has been contemplating various ways to close an anticipated budgetary gap. One idea that will be a tough sell in an recession and election year but will pay dividends in the long run is the notion of charging a fee for curbside trash collection.

Residents are sure to cry out, ďBut itís always been free!Ē Nothing could be further from the truth. Itís been a cost covered by property taxes, and those who use the service less are effectively subsidizing those who donít.
This doesnít provide any incentive for reducing the amount of trash the island produces. Coping with OÁahuís solid waste has been a challenge, one in which failure is not an option. Landfill space is critically limited and, judging by the uproar over proposals to extend the life of existing garbage dumps, thatís not a situation likely to change. Honolulu has turned to shipping waste off-island as a stopgap solution, and even that initiative is fraught with complications. Delays in the shipping operation have left tons of trash packed for shipment waiting on the docks.
Honolulu has to get its solid waste management under control, and devising a rational fee for collection service should be part of the long-term plan.
The council hasnít yet committed to a plan, or whether a fee should be charged at all. And thatís fine: There needs to be a full discussion over how to balance cuts in services with revenue-enhancing plans for closing the budgetary hole caused by the global recession.
Beyond that, the city may lose even more revenue if the state diverts some county revenues derived from the tourist tax.
But even more than merely replacing that revenue for the short term, a trash collection fee would provide a mechanism for further reducing the waste stream on an island newly served by curbside recycling.
This would mean implementing whatís called a pay-as-you-throw collection program, also known as unit pricing or variable-rate pricing. The more you recycle, the less trash that goes out to the curb and the less a taxpayer shells out in fees.
The Environmental Protection Agency has studied the issue and found it to be one route toward increased sustainability. Itís also more equitable because people can take more control over this part of municipal costs by managing household wastes.
Many cities nationwide are going this route. But few cities have a more compelling reason than Honolulu does for fueling a drive toward efficient waste management. This is an island, and its residents must learn to live with that clearly in mind.