Official: ‘Political will’ needed to fix solid waste problems

  • MANSOUR

Hawaii County should impose new fees for Big island residents to dispose of waste in the future, suggested a county official Tuesday.

During a presentation before the meeting of the County Council’s Committee on Regenerative Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management, Ramzi Mansour, director of the Department of Environmental Management, said the county needs to reconsider the costs of transporting waste around the island.

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Mansour said that the county does not charge enough to make transporting waste cost-effective. Earlier this year, commercial tipping fees at county landfills rose to $114 per ton, but transporting waste from the now-full Hilo landfill to the landfill in Kailua-Kona costs an average of $242 per ton.

Mansour said the county should consider alternate funding sources for waste management, including an annual fee system to use the county landfill, or a “pay as you throw” system whereby residents would pay a variable rate for waste depending on how much they throw away.

Kauai implemented a “pay as you throw” system in 2018, wherein residents pay $10 a month to dispose of up to 64 gallons of waste, or $18 a month for 96 gallons. However, Kauai County also provides curbside waste collection, which Hawaii County does not.

Mansour told the committee Tuesday that such alternates need only “political will” to implement, but some committee members were skeptical of his proposal.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said Mansour’s proposed alternatives would only maintain the existing status quo with regard to waste, when the county should be focusing on curbing the amount of waste generated overall.

Kailua-Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas agreed, saying “We are screwed, as a planet, if we can’t control our own waste.”

On the other hand, Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball noted that human behavior is difficult to change, and until residents’ garbage habits change, the county will still need to ensure that their waste is handled efficiently.

Mansour acknowledged that residents have been frustrated by frequent closures of county transfer stations, but urged patience.

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Deputy Director Brenda Iokepa-Moses said that the state Department of Health requires transfer stations to be supervised in person, but if staff call in sick — which has happened frequently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — then there may not be enough staff to keep all stations open on any given day.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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