Despite need to export, curbside recycling still beneficial
Most recyclable materials collected in the isles are shipped elsewhere for reuse.
A lack of industries and a small market prevent Oahu from direct reuse of a good portion of the recyclable materials that flow into the island's waste stream.
That should not deter city residents from adopting new practices when curbside recycling collections begin in earnest this fall. Trash disposal will require a bit more thought and effort and though there will likely be hitches as the program expands islandwide, the advantages are worth the small inconveniences.
Two years after approving a City Charter amendment, residents will be on track to take curbside recycling from concept to reality. After trial runs in Mililani and Hawaii Kai, collection service will extend through the East Honolulu, Windward Oahu and the North Shore in November. Every six months, new areas will be added until most of the island's neighborhoods are covered.
Twice-weekly garbage collections will be reduced to once a week with the second pickup alternating between green waste and recyclable materials, which residents will have to sort. While some people will see the change as a nuisance at first, in time the routine will settle in.
Recycling will reduce the amount of waste now being buried in the city's sole landfill, extending the life of the dump and pushing back the need to find another location for disposal, an ever-contentious NIMBY issue, and improve environmental conditions.
Unfortunately, much of the plastic, paper, cardboard, metals and glass that can be reused has to be shipped elsewhere for recycling because Oahu has little manufacturing or other markets for the products. On the bright side, the island's tons of green waste -- a significant amount of recyclables -- are in demand for mulch and composts, generating a sustainable "closed-loop" system.
Materials that aren't worth shipping away for reuse are burned by HPOWER to produce electricity, but at only 7 percent of Oahu's use. The city has plans for another boiler at the garbage-to-energy plant that could eventually consume nearly all municipal wastes, but that's years away and could present emission problems that will need to be considered.
Meanwhile, the city's effort to export trash to the mainland has been stymied by disputes over awarding a contract and could prove an expensive proposition just to get rid of about 6 percent of the garbage generated every year.
What officials should explore is how to lessen the import end of garbage. According to the city's landfill operator, Oahu produces more than twice as much trash -- 10 pounds per resident per day -- as the national average of 4.5 pounds, in part because of the transient population of visitors and because almost everything has to be shipped here. Municipalities and states as well as businesses are looking for ways to reduce packaging and the subsequent need for disposal.