Curbside program grows


POSTED: Sunday, March 22, 2009

Although the global recession has slashed demand for recyclable materials, the city is expanding its curbside recycling program to another large chunk of the island, roughly 40,000 homes, on May 4 as planned.





        Curbside recycling is coming to these neighborhoods:

» May: Ahuimanu, Haiku, Kaneohe, Pearl City to Halawa, Wahiawa, Waikalani and Launani Valley, Waimanalo, Waipio Gentry, Whitmore


» November: Foster Village to Makiki, Kahuku to Kahaluu


» May 2010: Makakilo to Waikele; Waipahu; Ewa Beach to West Loch; Honokai Hale to Makua


Source: Honolulu Department of Environmental Services




That is because it still makes sense to keep as much trash as possible out of the landfill, even if local recycling companies are having a tougher time finding markets for the used paper, plastic and other items being collected, officials say.

“;There is a cost no matter which direction you take the materials,”; said Suzanne Jones, recycling coordinator for Honolulu. “;I think recycling is the more intelligent direction. The overall goal we have is landfill diversion.”;

Recycling is a relative bargain to the city, which pays $50 a ton to dispose of trash at HPOWER, the garbage-to-energy plant. It pays $45 a ton to RRR Recycling Services to process mixed recyclables collected at curbside. The true cost to the city for the recycling service is even less—as low as $15 a ton—because the city gets the 5-cent deposits on HI-5 beverage containers that are in the mix.

Workers were delivering recycling carts to Pearl City last week and will move on to neighborhoods stretching from Waipio Gentry to Halawa, plus Wahiawa, Whitmore, Kaneohe and Waimanalo. Starting May 4, when area residents start using their new carts, nearly 100,000 households on Oahu will have curbside recycling.

The rest of the island will get the service by May 2010. The city has also added more community recycling bins at schools and other sites, where residents can drive up and drop their used paper, cardboard, plastics and aluminum cans.

While it is becoming easier than ever for local residents to recycle, this is a rough time for the recycling companies, which have to find buyers for what is collected. The slump in the global economy means that demand has plummeted for used paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and aluminum.

Those products are used as feedstock for manufacturing plants. As consumers curtail their buying, factories produce fewer televisions, for example, so they need fewer boxes to package them. Asian paper mills, in turn, no longer wanted the castoff newspaper and cardboard they had been importing from places like Hawaii to make that packaging.

“;About September, October, the markets collapsed,”; said Greg Apa, senior vice president of Honolulu Recovery Systems. “;We couldn't get orders for any kind of fiber product for almost two months. They've come back a little bit, but prices haven't really recovered.”;

The recession has affected all sorts of recycled goods, not just fiber.

“;You're at anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of what the price was just six months ago, depending on the commodity,”; said Apa, whose company handles the community recycling bins and many commercial accounts.

Commodity values normally fluctuate, but this decline was steep and sudden. Prices had been rising for the past several years, in some cases reaching historic highs. That had helped spur investment in building up recycling infrastructure across the country.

Nationally, 33 percent of trash, or “;municipal solid waste,”; was recycled in 2007, up from 16 percent in 1990 and 29 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In Honolulu, 35 percent of trash was recycled in 2007.

So far, public recycling programs in the United States seem to be hanging on despite the recession. Ed Skernolis, acting executive director for the National Recycling Coalition, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., said he had heard of just a few communities curtailing or suspending their recycling programs. He noted that recycling is popular with the public and good for the environment.

“;There's no indication that I have of pullback going on among communities and private companies who are participating in recycling programs,”; Skernolis said. “;It's a concern, but we haven't seen evidence of it yet, of a major swing going on.”;

In Hawaii, local recycling companies have laid off workers and cut operating costs to cope with shrinking income. One thing that has helped them is the HI-5 beverage container deposit program, which pays recyclers a 1 cent-per-bottle handling fee. The redemption rate reached 72 percent last year, a new high.

“;At least we're getting the handling fees and moving that stuff out,”; Apa said. “;It helps us keep the lights on.”;

The city is working to restructure future contracts with recycling companies to minimize risk from price swings in the commodities markets and to make sure the agreements are fair to all sides, Jones said. Its current contract with RRR Recycling expires at the end of October.

“;We don't want the contractor to be assuming the risks of the fluctuating commodities market,”; Jones said. “;That's not going to make for a very stable contract for us. The other side of that is, if we are going to assume more risk when the commodities market goes down, we want to be able to receive more of the revenues when the market is up.”;

Maintaining recycling programs through lean times is easier and more cost-effective than shutting them down and having to start up again from scratch, recyclers say.

“;This recession will end,”; Skernolis said, adding that when it does, demand will outstrip the supply of virgin material for manufacturers. “;The recycled materials are going to be a key component of the economic recovery,”; he said.