Curbing Oahu recycling program isn't an option


POSTED: Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The global economic decline has left few businesses untouched. Even companies that cash in on Oahu's trash feel the pinch as prices for recyclable materials tipped down in tandem with demand.

Slumps in the market for paper, plastic, glass and aluminum come as the city's curbside recycling program expands to the Windward coast and Central Oahu communities in May and to urban Oahu and the North Shore in the fall. Next year, most of the island will get the service that alternates weekly pick-up of green waste with recyclables.

Although a few municipalities on the mainland that are considering cutting back or discontinuing curbside recycling because of revenue shortfalls, the city doesn't have that easy option. With only one landfill in operation, diverting as much waste as possible is critical.

Even when the city begins shipping some garbage to the mainland — a program that has been stalled by a dispute over awarding of a contract — population growth and an eventual economic recovery will assure more trash will be generated.

If the state Legislature approves a bill to place a moratorium on new landfills in the Waianae, Waialua, Koolauloa and Koolaupoko districts, a larger portion of the island will be off limits for new disposal facilities.

The Star-Bulletin's Susan Essoyan reports that while curbside service has made recycling easier for residents, companies that collect and sell the materials are having a tougher time finding buyers.

A drop in demand for consumer goods and products has brought a corresponding decrease in prices for recyclables. Fewer appliances manufactured means less packaging made from used paper or plastic is needed.

Hawaii recycling companies have been getting up to 40 percent less for recyclable materials than six months ago, forcing them to lay off workers and cut operating costs.

The one bright spot is the state's HI-5 beverage container program, which pays companies a penny per bottle from a 6-cent fee collected from consumers. The city recoups the deposit fee to help pay for the service.

How long the city can economically sustain all of its trash collection services is unclear. The city largely relies on property taxes to fund operations and with legislative proposals to eliminate the counties' share of hotel room taxes, Mayor Mufi Hannemann anticipates budget shortfalls in the coming fiscal years.

To make up part of the difference, the city might have to charge residents for refuse collection, much like Maui residents pay for the service. That would be a politically sensitive issue, but the alternative should not be to discontinue recycling. The short-term cash savings would be more costly in the long term.