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Discarded tires a nuisance for county

  • Stacks of used tires are ready for disposal. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii County doesn’t consider tires rubbish, but that hasn’t stopped residents from abandoning them on roadsides or dropping them off at transfer stations in defiance of official policy.

Regarded as recyclables only, workers in the county’s Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Solid Waste Division have no choice but to collect all tires that infiltrate the waste stream, store them and deal with third parties to ship the rubber off-island.

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The county initiated a bid process on Oct. 15 to find a contractor to provide tire recycling services and streamline the process.

“That’s what this is meant to do,” said Mike Kaha, Solid Waste deputy division chief. “To have a mechanism for the county to dispose of those tires that aren’t being disposed of correctly.”

Hawaii Administrative Rules don’t allow waste services to landfill whole tires, and county code prohibits the trashing of even shredded tires, but recycling them is typically easy enough.

Tire dealers like Firestone or Goodyear build a disposal fee into the purchase price, meaning customers pay for the appropriate disposal of their tires before the rubber ever meets the road.

When dealers change tires out, they keep them — usually. The Goodyear Auto Service Center in Kailua-Kona implements a policy of drilling holes into the sidewall of each tire it removes, robbing thieves of any incentive to steal them.

When tires pile up, Goodyear sends them off to Arizumi Tire Disposal and Services, which keeps them moving through the process until they ultimately end up repurposed for use in asphalt, as wastewater filters or as a gravel substitute, among several other possibilities.

The problem of loose tires landing in the county waste stream can begin two ways. Dealers don’t always take old tires after a replacement if the originals were purchased from a different company, and some drivers decide either to hold onto old tires or change those out themselves.

“That’s the missing piece here,” Kaha said. “People aren’t bringing those tires back.”

Thus, it falls to solid waste workers to cover island roadways, as well as each of their 22 transfer stations, loading up discarded rubber, lugging it to storage centers where tires are covered and stacked, then hauling them to disposal companies for off-island recycling.

Under the new process DEM plans to initiate, the department will select four of its transfer stations as designated storage and pickup locations for the new recycling contractor, which will be determined through the bidding process.

Kaha said officials hope centralization of materials and transitioning to a pickup system rather than one of delivery will scale back the department’s hauling burden, creating financial and time benefits.

But inside the Solid Waste Division, there will still be significant time and manpower devoted to tire collection and storage, he explained. So the best solution to the problem remains for drivers to recycle their tires properly through the appropriate and provided channels.

Without the public’s assistance, any process DEM implements will add up to pretty heavy lifting over the course of the year. More than 123 tons of tires were collected across the island by DEM in 2017-18. Workers hauled almost 89 tons of that rubber out of West Hawaii.

“It becomes cumbersome,” Kaha said. “But not doing it means these tires collect water and what not, so there’s a lot of good reasons for us to do it other than the state says we need to.”

In his comment about collecting water, Kaha was alluding to the dengue fever outbreak in Hawaii County between 2015-16 that saw hundreds of people fall ill.

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“Mosquitoes can breed in just a tablespoon of standing water,” the Hawaii Department of Health wrote in an email conveyed by Anna Koethe, DOH public health information coordinator.

“Tires, especially those that are abandoned or not stored properly, provide an ideal breeding area for mosquitoes more so than other containers or bins that might collect standing water.”