Mayor finds green way to recycle blue bins
Honolulu's $2.5 million blue recycling bins are about to get filled with some green.
Yard clippings and other green waste, that is.
The city yesterday announced curbside pickups for green waste by next spring using trucks with robotic arms -- finally finding a use for the controversial 50,000 blue bins that were intended for other recyclable materials, but that now sit empty in people's homes.
"Homeowners will be able to place their yard cuttings, lawn clippings and other green waste in their blue bins. City trucks with robotic arms will pick up green waste from curbside bins twice a month. That's a day after one of their scheduled regular trash pickups," Hannemann announced.
The mayor said the program would allow residents to use the bins, which were delivered to homes in Wahiawa, Mililani and along the Windward coast to Waimanalo as part of a curbside recycling plan devised by former Mayor Jeremy Harris.
The bins were intended for newspapers, aluminum cans, plastic bottles and other recyclable materials, and are costing taxpayers about $2.5 million under a lease-to-own program.
Two weeks ago, Hannemann announced that he was scrapping the curbside recycling program because continued legal challenges to recycling processing contracts put the project in limbo. He said the Harris plan was fraught with "pilikia."
Hannemann said the city would instead assist schools with recycling projects, and back the state's HI-5 beverage container redemption program.
He said the green waste pickup avoids legal problems with the Harris plan because the city will use its current contract with Hawaiian Earth Products to continue to process the green waste.
While applauding Hannemann's announcement today, critics continued to call for the mayor to move forward with the city picking up more than just green waste.
"I think it's time for Oahu to have a real curbside recycling program," said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter.
"This is a project we must undertake in the long term," said City Councilman Charles Djou, who called for comprehensive curbside recycling.
Currently, green waste is picked up twice a month at homes islandwide, but the city collects it manually, not with the one-arm automated trucks.
Under the current program, residents bundle their yard waste or put it in bags that are picked up by city workers who toss the trash into the back of garbage trucks.
Under the mayor's proposal, homeowners will be able to use the blue bins for green materials to be picked up by the one-arm automated trucks. He said clippings that do not fit in the blue bin can be placed in the 96-gallon gray bins that are currently used for regular trash pick up.
The city wants to start picking up green waste by March 1 in Wahiawa, Mililani and the North Shore to Sunset Beach, then from Kahuku to Waimanalo on March 15.
Eric Takamura, city environmental services director, said city garbage trucks will be "tweaked" over the next few months so that they can pick up both the heavier gray bins and the smaller blue bins.
Takamura said that automating green waste pickup will make the program more convenient for residents.
But not everyone agrees. "That's not going to work for us, because we have way too much if it's limited to that one (blue) container and the gray one," said Melanie Chrest of Kaaawa.
She said she and her husband have a 15,000-square-foot lot with wall-to-wall plants. "In order for that to have any sort of hope of working, (the mayor) would have to increase the pickups to at least once a week, and even that's not going to work for us, for our particular yard."
Here's the annual breakdown on refuse and green waste on Oahu:
» 1.6 million tons of total refuse produced
» 200,000 tons of green waste produced
» 50,000 tons of green waste recycled
» $7 million annual cost to automate green waste pickup at homes
Source: City & County of Honolulu