No big changes recommended in 10-year solid waste master plan

  • CHELSEA JENSEN/West Hawaii Today Waste is dumped Monday at the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill in Pu‘uanahulu.

  • CHELSEA JENSEN/West Hawaii Today Waste is moved Monday at the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill in Pu‘uanahulu.

  • CHELSEA JENSEN/West Hawaii Today Waste is dumped Monday at the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill in Pu‘uanahulu.

As the county grapples with a pandemic economy, closure of the Hilo landfill and loss of overseas markets for recyclables, there are more general priorities than specific recommendations in a 395-page 10-year solid waste plan slated for consideration by the County Council.

The 2019 Integrated Solid Waste Master Plan is scheduled to be taken up at 2 p.m. today by the County Council Committee on Regenerative Agriculture, Water, Energy &Environmental Management. The measure, Resolution 73, then faces one vote before the council before it is accepted and transmitted to the state Department of Health.

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There are no specific recommendations for action, unlike in previous decades, when recommendations such as a pay-per-throw bag tag program at county transfer stations or waste-to-energy facilities were part of the mix, drawing much community comment.

“The plan update focuses on waste diversion, with an emphasis on education, outreach and public awareness. Outside of maintaining or improving existing facilities, the plan does not generally recommend the construction of new facilities or operations. Instead, the county will assess how the existing facilities and programs are functioning and to identify solutions best suited to current and projected future conditions,” said Environmental Management Director Ramzi Mansour in a March 9 communication to the council. “This includes seeking joint solutions with state and other Hawaii jurisdictions.”

The report notes that Hawaii County’s rate of recycling or otherwise diverting garbage from the landfill has dropped 48% in the past decade. Recycling tonnage reported to the county by local businesses and the amount of recyclables managed by the county decreased from a 36.1% diversion rate in fiscal year 2009-10 to 20.8% in fiscal year 2017-18, and landfill disposal increased from 155,682 tons to 224,196 tons during the same period.

The data doesn’t account for non-county-sponsored private recycling or diversions, the report cautions. These could include big-box stores such as Costco and Walmart that ship combined bales of cardboard and plastic to either the West Coast to third-party brokers or to the retailer’s distribution center, or contractors or nonprofit groups that also sell recycled materials directly to brokers on the mainland. The numbers might also be skewed because the county began sending most of the scrap metal recycling to the private sector starting in 2013, which took a significant tonnage out of the equation.

The plan includes 82 recommendations covering nine solid waste management programs. The top six in the report:

• Conduct education, outreach and public awareness campaigns.

• Regularly review and, when appropriate, renegotiate the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill contract.

• Conduct additional household hazardous waste collection events.

• Change county code to allow small businesses to drop off recyclables at recycling and transfer stations.

• Establish goals that are expressed and measured in terms of environmental impacts (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions, toxicity, energy use) and consider full life cycle impacts, in addition to tonnage-based landfill diversion or waste recovery goals.

• Develop county policy and ordinances related to source reduction and recycling.

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The plan was created by a five-member Solid Waste Advisory Committee, which began meeting in May 2018. The committee did its work with the help of two consultants: Seattle-based Parametrix and Hilo-based Wesley R. Segawa and Associates Inc. The state requires counties to update their plans every decade.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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