It's so easy: One bin, two bin -- gray bin, blue bin
AT 510 feet above sea level, the Waimanalo Gulch sanitary landfill has become one of Oahu's tallest manmade structures, exceeding the island's building height limitation by more than 100 feet. It also is likely the dirtiest, receiving $2.8 million in fines in the past month for 18 ongoing environmental violations. Last week the City Council voted to close
this monument of our profligate waste habits in a little over two years. The last selection process for possible landfill sites produced such unattractive options as Koko Head crater, or building a landfill over our sole source of drinking water.
Hawaii residents generate a whopping average of 6.2 pounds of opala each day. That's 41 percent more than the national average (4.4 pounds). This wastefulness is compounded by our lack of recycling, with more than two-thirds of our waste being landfilled or incinerated.
We know we can do better to reduce our waste stream. Fortunately -- should the City Council get it right this week -- a solution will soon be coming to your door.
Bill 72, implementing an islandwide curbside recycling program, is an essential tool to reduce our residential solid waste. Currently the majority of household recyclable material does not make it to school drop-off bins. Residents want to do the right thing but they need it to be easy and convenient. Curbside is just that -- recycling convenience for bottles, cans, food jars, cardboard, newsprint and other recyclables at your own curb. By establishing this common-sense program, Honolulu will be joining the 10,000 cities across the mainland that have curbside collection of recyclables.
A well-run curbside recycling program on Oahu will capture more than 40,000 tons of recyclables annually. This conservative estimate is based on:
» Capture rates of curbside recycling programs in cities of comparable size. Portland, Ore., with about 200,000 households, diverted 48,200 tons of recyclables in 2000 through its curbside recycling program. Oregon, like Hawaii, has a bottle deposit law. The people of San Diego (276,000 households) recycled 72,000 tons with their curbside collection program in 2004.
» The City and County of Honolulu 1999 Waste Composition Study. After sorting through hundreds of loads of trash, consultants found that Oahu's residential opala contains more than 43 percent paper, plastics, metal and glass, most of which could be recycled. Almost 90,000 tons of paper are discarded annually from Oahu homes. This same study found that green waste comprises 29 percent of the residential wastestream.
» Honolulu's 1999 Analysis of Curbside Recycling. This study found that an average curbside collection program could capture about 39,000 tons of recyclables annually. Although this data predates the start of the statewide bottle deposit law, the law's effect on the total amount of recyclable material is limited. Based on the 1999 Waste Composition Study, deposit beverage containers comprise about 4 percent of the Honolulu household wastestream. At current average redemption rates of around 70 percent, this would reduce the amount of recyclable materials to about 40 percent of the wastestream -- if a curbside program has no effect on the redemption behavior of residents.
The benefits of a curbside-recycling program extend beyond environmental gains. After implementing curbside recycling, the city of Mesa, Ariz., was able to reduce the number of garbage pick-ups from twice a week to only once a week.
The economics of curbside recycling are fairly clear -- recyclable materials are an asset, whereas trash is a liability. For each ton of recyclables collected, the city will receive $5 (according to the bid offered by a recycler during the most recent request for proposals). With trash, however, the city has two costly options: burn it at H-Power by paying $60 per ton, or landfill it for $15.
But more important, our environment and future generations are paying the real costs for not recycling. We simply can't wait any longer for real solid waste solutions. Let's stop burying our problems. Easy, convenient curbside recycling will help us get there.
Jeffrey Mikulina is the director of the Sierra Club, Hawaii chapter.