Clear plan needed before city starts shipping away trash
Shipping Oahu's trash to the mainland is gaining support from the City Council.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gives municipalities control of garbage could block private businesses' plans to ship Honolulu's trash to the mainland, but spur the city to do it on its own.
With only a year left on its permit to continue operations at its sole landfill at Waimanalo Gulch in Leeward Oahu, the city has been searching for answers to its solid waste disposal problems.
Leeward residents have fiercely opposed expanding the landfill or extending its use. Residents in other communities where new sites have been proposed fought just as hard against a dump in their backyards. But as the island's population continues to grow, so too do its loads of trash.
At present, private companies that collect garbage from businesses, hotels and some apartments and condos have to pay a tipping fee of $92 for every ton they unload at city facilities, but the companies found it would be cheaper to bundle the trash and transport garbage to landfill sites in Washington, Oregon or Idaho.
They have been seeking permits from the state Department of Health and federal authorities to allow the shipping, but the city resisted the plans because it would lose tipping fee revenues, which it needs to pay for trash collection service that most residents get for free.
The court, in a case involving counties in New York state, ruled that local governments can pass laws that direct the flow of their garbage, rejecting arguments from hauling businesses that preventing them from dumping at out-of-state sites that charged lower fees was unconstitutionally discriminatory.
The ruling would allow the city to go with shipping and still collect the revenue. City Councilman Gary Okino wants the administration to come up with a plan for off-island disposal. That plan would have to consider the possible effects on the city's current H-Power contract that requires 500,000 tons of trash a year to be delivered for electricity production, as well as its plans to expand the garbage-to-energy operation.
The plan also would have to weigh the costs of shipping, and if Okino's request that about $5 million be budgeted for six month's worth of transport is any indication, the venture could prove expensive.
The administration and the Council also should think about the long-term prospects of shipping trash. As the cost of transportation fuel increases, so would the cost of shipping. In addition, fees charged by disposal sites undoubtedly will rise as time goes by.
Furthermore, officials should look at the societal aspects of sending garbage away. An out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude blunts the need to produce less waste and to recycle, both of which are vital to the environment and the quality of life on an island.