New Bulk Trash Law in Honolulu

Curbing the Clutter: A new law targets Honolulu's bulk-trash eyesores.

This open field in Waialua makes the country look, well, not so country.

Photos: Sheila Sarhangi

A stroll through Honolulu’s streets can feel like a walk through a junk pile. Televisions next to mailboxes. Mattresses at bus stops. Couches against telephone poles. These clunky items have been set out for bulky waste pickup, though often weeks in advance, creating public eyesores.

Last August, acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bill 78, which called for a fine of $250 per day to property owners who put bulky waste on the curb before their pickup date. The new law went into effect Jan. 1, but won’t be enforced until the administrative rules, which outline such things as grace periods and the appeals process, are voted on by the City Council, likely by June.

Prior to 2005, regular monthly pickups of bulk trash existed only in the urban core of Honolulu; anyone outside of the area had to call the City to haul away their items. “Residents would contact the City, and then wait three to four days for removal,” says Markus Owens, spokesman for the City Department of Environmental Services. Concerned that a lack of scheduled pickups encouraged illegal dumping, former Mayor Mufi Hannemann phased in regular bulky-item service to all Oahu residents.

Kids create a makeshift playground on Kapiolani Blvd.

Owens says that, although dumping has decreased since the monthly program was expanded, it’s still a problem. “There are more than 50 hot spots between Hawaii Kai and Halawa Stream. They are chronic, high-density areas, such as Waipahu, Kalihi and Makiki, with a high turnover in residents,” he says. “If someone is moving, and they need to get rid of things fast, they just leave it.” Another possible reason: a lack of space to store items replaced by new purchases.

San Francisco, a city with a population size comparable to Oahu, and a goal of zero waste by 2020, has moved in the opposite direction with regard to its bulky-waste system. It abandoned a regular once-a-year pickup program and switched to a by-appointment system. Residents receive two free pickups annually, with a maximum of 10 items per visit. If additional pickups are needed, there’s a charge. In Honolulu, there’s no limit on the number of bulky items a person can leave on the curb, as long as it’s done in the correct time frame.

“We used to have what was dubbed ‘Big Trash Day’ where you’d put your stuff out at a certain time and our refuse company would basically pick it all up,” says Robert Haley, recycling program manager for the Department of Environment San Francisco. “We saw streets deep in stuff, and it became a real mess. It also sent out the message that you don’t have to be responsible, you can buy a lot of stuff and if you don’t want it, just put it out and the City will make it magically disappear.”

Although San Francisco still has its own share of dumping issues, Haley says, “If you just do days of big free dumping, it makes it difficult to focus on where the trash is coming from. When people call and put their items out on a certain day, then you know whose it is, and you can get your hands around the problem.”

With any luck, the new fine, coupled with enforcement, will keep offenders from treating Honolulu’s streets like free dumpsites.