Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024|
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In this 2021 photo, waste is dumped at the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill in Pu‘uanahulu. (West Hawaii Today file photo)
In order to extend the usable life of the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill, a Hawaii County commission is drafting a bill that would prohibit disposing of recyclable materials at that facility.
The county’s Environmental Management Commission has been developing over its last several monthly meetings an ordinance aimed at gradually reducing the materials entering the WHSL — the only landfill still operating on the island — by diverting waste toward other processes.
EMC chair Georjean Adams, who is drafting the ordinance, said that the Department of Environmental Management estimates the WHSL has about 20 to 25 years left of usable life at the county’s current rate of waste production. Certain practices, such as changing how thick the landfill liners are, could squeeze a few more years out of the facility, but with the Hilo landfill closed since 2020, a solution must be found sooner rather than later.
The latest draft of the ordinance — which Adams said is still in very early development — would prohibit certain people from intentionally disposing of “designated recyclable wastes” into county landfills. Those people would include “large businesses, multifamily subdivisions, county facilities, schools, nonprofits, small businesses, and residents who have access to transfer stations and/or curbside collection of designated recyclable wastes.”
Adams said the goal of the ordinance would be to ensure that alternative waste streams are accessible throughout the island and that people have reasonable access to services that divert waste away from the landfill. In order to do that, she said the county Department of Environmental Management would have to do island-wide analyses to determine where the greatest amount of recyclable material entering the landfill is coming from.
“We’d probably start with larger entities,” Adams said. “Larger businesses, larger government agencies, larger nonprofits … For example, we could require condo developments to have a place for residents to take their recycling and have regular collections.”
Adams said the ordinance wouldn’t be intended to be punitive — “we’re not going to beat people up over a can here or there, as long as there’s a good-faith attempt being made” — but added that enforcement of any kind will be a challenge, as DEM is short-staffed as it is.
Meanwhile, she said, just because some materials are technically recyclable doesn’t mean they actually can be. With no recycling facilities on the island, the county is beholden to international waste markets, where very few entities are buying plastic or paper waste.
“I’m trying to build an ordinance capable of adapting to these changing markets,” Adams said.
But others disagree that the ordinance is the proper solution for the problem. Kristine Kubat, president of the board of nonprofit Recycle Hawaii, said diverting waste to recycling only treats a symptom, not the cause.
“We’re actually not really worried about the landfill,” Kubat said. “We’re trying to reach zero waste, and we need to look at what role the landfill will play in zero waste.”
Kubat said that trying to extend the landfill’s lifespan distracts from the true goal, which is reducing the amount of waste in general. While she said she supports recycling to a degree, she explained that plastic waste in particular needs to be drastically reduced, rather than diverted to plastic recycling facilities, which she added are themselves sources of pollution.
“We appreciate the intent of the ordinance, but it doesn’t really do much for our goals,” Kubat said.
Adams acknowledged that the ordinance is just one tool the county could use to reduce waste streams, and that reducing waste generation is the ultimate goal.
At the same time, Adams said, progress on the ordinance is slow — the most recent commission meeting on Aug. 22 only moved to postpone discussion on the draft until a future meeting — and it will still likely take a year or more before it becomes an actual viable bill. Currently, she said, the commission is hoping to engage with the Hawaii County Council to discuss whether the concept is plausible and how it can be fine-tuned to be legally coherent.
“There’s still a lot of questions about implementation, we’ll need to do a lot of public comment periods,” Adams said. “We’re just looking at how we can begin the conversation on a more official basis.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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