Environment: Curbside Crux

A passed City Charter amendment might finally get curbside recycling rolling on O‘ahu.

Honolulu residents are trash-loving folks. According to state and local studies, we produce an average of 6.2 pounds of solid waste per day compared to the nationwide average of 4.4 pounds, and a 1994 study showed that as much as 43 percent of O‘ahu’s residential trash is recyclable. A curbside recycling program would seem to be a no-brainer—10,000 Mainland cities already have them in place. Where is Honolulu’s?

Mayor Jeremy Harris launched a pilot program in 2003, only to see it challenged successfully by the United Public Workers union when it was announced that private contractors were to be hired instead of its refuse workers.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s administration says it resolved that issue, but ran into another obstacle when Island Recycling protested Rolloffs Hawai‘i and its partner BLT Enterprises’ low bid to handle the curbside program, likely causing more delays.

Since then, pressure on the city to deliver this service has only increased. Last November, voters approved a City Charter amendment mandating curbside recycling as a city function.

In Hannemann’s February State of the City address, he proposed a plan that would cut back the current twice-a-week trash pickup to once a week, allowing for recycling collection on the second day, with green waste and mixed recyclables alternating each week. If homeowners wanted to keep the second trash pickup, they would have to pay a $10 monthly fee. The city will hold public meetings in April and May for input, then plans to start the pilot project this September in Windward O‘ahu and Mililani, or in Hawai‘i Kai.

But Jeff Mikulina, Sierra Club of Hawai‘i director, says the plan is, “Too little, and too slow,” adding, “What we’re looking for is fulfilling that charter mandate and implementing an Islandwide comprehensive curbside recycling program as soon as possible.”

Bill Brennan, Hannemann’s press secretary, says that the regular trash and green waste pickup is curbside recycling, citing that of the 1.76 million tons of solid waste produced annually by O‘ahu residents, 600,000 tons is burned at the HPOWER plant and is used to generate 7 percent to 8 percent of the island’s electricity. Green waste is converted into mulch.

With the proposed curbside program, the city hopes to collect about 90,000 tons of green waste and up to 40,000 tons of mixed recyclables per year.

So maybe, after nearly four years of debates, delays and disappointed residents, Honolulu could end its reign as a curbside dinosaur.