We have alternatives to curbside recycling
Curbside recycling seemed like a good idea in the fall of 2003. That was when then-Mayor Jeremy Harris announced the city would start a demonstration project in Mililani. It was proposed in the face of mounting pressure on our landfills and growing public awareness of the benefits of recycling. In fact, I embraced the idea as an initiative I would like to support as mayor.
The Mililani project involved 10,000 homes and worked well enough for the city to announce a year later, in September 2004, that it would begin expanding curbside recycling, with the goal of making it islandwide within a year. But like a number of past projects, this one was launched without all the T's being crossed and the I's being dotted.
The Harris administration ordered roughly 50,000 blue 64-gallon bins for the program.
A short time later, however, the United Public Workers union, which represents refuse workers and other city blue-collar employees, challenged Mayor Harris' plan to expand and privatize this program, and the initiative was put on hold. Meanwhile, the state's HI5 bottle redemption law had just gone into effect and was beginning to change the nature and economics of recycling.
In addition, the blue bins that had been ordered were taking up expensive warehouse space, and once media reports surfaced about that, the Harris administration ordered the bins distributed to homes in Mililani, the North Shore and Windward Oahu, despite the absence of any realistic starting date for curbside recycling.
That was the situation that greeted us when my administration took office in January. In discussions with the UPW, we resolved the union's concerns within a few weeks and were therefore ready to kick-start the program. However, the contractor that my predecessor had selected was unable to fulfill the contract requirements, so we had to cancel the contract in April, then went out for bids on a new contract in an attempt to move the program forward again.
Three bids were submitted to recycle 30,000 tons a year of the roughly 1.5 million tons of refuse generated on Oahu annually. Another snag appeared as one firm challenged the apparent low bid, triggering a lengthy process to comply with state procurement laws. That process has dragged on for months, and even if the city were to proceed and sign a contract with one of the three bidders, one or both of the others would likely challenge that, which could ultimately send the matter to the courts, causing further delays. Meanwhile, questions have been raised whether the three have the required state pollution control permits.
Enough already. This has taken way too long, conditions have changed, legal challenges to the contract likely would have added months more to the delay, and I'm not one to promote false hopes and expectations.
Meanwhile, the City Council has encouraged us to work on recycling with community groups and schools. Many organizations, such as the Farrington Alumni Community Foundation and the Kailua High School Project Graduation, are using the HI5 program to raise funds.
At this point, I am convinced that working with the state and with schools and other organizations is a better way to achieve our goal of recycling a larger share of Oahu's trash, rather than continuing to pursue a curbside recycling program with dwindling potential for ever getting started in its present form. Besides, our schools and community groups stand to receive much-needed funding. For example, the recent gift of $150,000 to the state Department of Education from Honolulu Recovery Systems, our contractor for the white bins, demonstrates the potential benefit to schools. And it will be enhanced through the city's increased efforts.
Our Department of Environmental Services will:
» Expand the use of white recycling bins in schools. We have 77 of the large bins out there now, and hope to deploy another 40.
» Distribute more 96-gallon green bins that schools can use to hold recyclables.
» Help the state establish more HI5 redemption sites, particularly in the under-served area between Kahala and Pearl City. This likely will mean using city property for redemption centers.
» Hold a comprehensive, educational "Discover Recycling" fair Nov. 4-6 at the Blaisdell Arena.
On a related front, we are continuing to work toward providing no-call, regularly scheduled bulky item trash pickup islandwide by next spring. That is making a difference. Regular bulky item pickup, aimed at protecting the environment by discouraging illegal dumping, was previously offered only between East Honolulu and Aliamanu, but we have already expanded it to the Waianae Coast, North Shore and Koolauloa.
So what about the blue bins? And is curbside recycling dead?
It seems the most viable prospect is to use the blue bins for green-waste recycling. Right now the city offers free curbside pickup of green waste in residential areas twice a month.
We recognize that the blue bins are only two-thirds the size of the gray, 96-gallon bins that most homeowners have been issued. But using the blue ones would nonetheless make it more convenient for homeowners to recycle green waste. They wouldn't have to bundle the branches and bag the leaves and cuttings the way they do now. And recycling green waste holds a potential for diverting far more tonnage of refuse from the waste stream than curbside recycling of bottles, cans and paper did. Currently, yard trimmings and other green waste make up about 200,000 tons -- slightly more than one-eighth of Oahu's refuse per year -- yet only about 50,000 tons are currently recycled.
We need time to iron out more of the details so that we can implement this option successfully.
The Hannemann administration is committed to a meaningful recycling program that we can sustain and maintain in the years to come. Our well-being, as individuals and as a community, demands that we all do more to recycle as much of our waste as possible. In our Honolulu home, recycling should be everyone's business.
Mufi Hannemann is the mayor of Honolulu.