Hawaii County’s e-waste program is drastically over budget and may have to be halted if more funding isn’t found soon, local contractor Mr. K’s Recycle and Redemption Center told the Environmental Management Commission on Wednesday.
The county gets $160,000 annually from the state to recycle computers, printers, monitors, telephones and other electronics. But the program has already cost $210,000 in the first seven months of the fiscal year that began July 1, said Richard Pratt, electronic recycling supervisor for Mr. K’s.
We are told that the program may be suspended unless we can find funds from the mayor,” Pratt said.
Pratt was one of three Mr. K’s employees sounding the warning.
“Our experience is e-waste will be dumped and end up in the landfill,” said Claire Cea, who’s in charge of e-waste for the recycling contractor.
The county wants to keep electronics out of the landfill because they contain lead, mercury and cadmium that can leach into the ground and into the groundwater. Lithium batteries in the e-waste can also burst into flames, setting landfills on fire.
Mr. K’s owner, Roy Kadota, said the county needs to chip in and not rely strictly on state funding for the program. He pointed to Maui, which has a $348,000 budget for e-waste, with only $160,000 coming from the state.
Kadota and others, such as Kristine Kubat, president of the nonprofit Recycle Hawaii, suggested the county could use the approximately $400,000 saved when the county rolled back its contract for plastics and paper recycling to ensure the e-waste program is kept up.
But Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski said part of that money has been spent to hire six new solid waste attendants and drivers to help mitigate against closures of transfer stations because of staff shortages. Closures of transfer stations without notice because someone doesn’t show up for their scheduled shift has been a particular problem in West Hawaii.
That didn’t sit well with Kubat.
“It raises the question, with all due respect to the director, is that legal?” Kubat asked. “It’s not OK for the director to take money out of a specific line item in his budget without approval from the council.”
Kucharski said after the meeting he’s had a discussion with the mayor and “we’re reasonably sure we’ll be able to maintain the services. We’re hopeful. … We’re looking for the money.”
He said the state is indicating it will provide a little more next budget year, raising the state grant to $210,000.
Kucharski said more than half of the county solid waste budget is coming not from fees for services, but from the general fund, which is backed primarily by property taxes. That means every time the department asks for more money, it has to come from some other county function such as police and fire protection or parks programs, he said.
“It is not from the user directly; it is from property taxes,” Kucharski said. “Getting solid waste off the general fund — I would love to see it but that means the money has to come from somewhere else.”
The commission voted to send a letter to the County Council asking that body to keep the money in recycling programs.
Mr. K’s accepts consumer electronics for free every Saturday, while charging businesses a fee.
The company also accepts and processes e-waste from county collection events. The county collects consumer electronics for free at Waiohinu Transfer Station the first Saturday of the month, Waimea Transfer Station, the second Saturday, Kealakehe Transfer Station, the third Saturday and Hilo Transfer Station, the fourth Saturday. All county electronics recycling collection sites are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on their scheduled days.