Wednesday
Jul292009

Why We Need to Ship Waste

Every community in America has to find a way to take out its trash. The particular problem for us in Hawaii is that we lack a place to put all of our trash.

 

Oahu currently has only one landfill that takes all of our community’s municipal solid waste. This landfill, Waimanalo Gulch, located in West Oahu has been, and continues to be, the subject of enormous controversy. Several years ago, the City pledged to close Waimanalo Gulch, but has not followed through on the pledge.

 

Finding a new landfill site will be exceptionally challenging. No community on our island wants a new landfill in their neighborhood. The political fight over locating any new landfill will be enormous.

 

Furthermore, real estate is expensive in Hawaii. In addition to a bitter political fight, Hawaii’s high real property prices make locating a new landfill on Oahu very costly.

 

If those weren’t enough challenges, the EPA has established a national rule that prohibits locating landfills in the U.S. over water aquifers to prevent seepage of garbage “juices” into the drinking water. On Oahu, however, 95% of our island’s land is over a water aquifer. The 5% of land not located over an aquifer is primarily beach-front property – land that is almost always already developed, the most pristine natural areas and the most expensive real property around.

 

To fix Oahu’s solid waste problem, we need to take a multi-pronged approach. There is no one magic bullet that addresses all of our garbage issues. Instead, the City government must adopt several strategies. Part of the solution must include an expansion of recycling. That’s why I have long been a champion of curbside recycling for Honolulu. Next, we should look at expanding our garbage-to-energy processing facilities, including looking at more advanced technologies for processing garbage that have been adopted in Japan and Europe. But it also requires us to look at shipping some of our garbage to the mainland.

 

Klickitat County, Washington and a few other communities on the mainland have expressed a clear interest in taking Oahu’s waste. Several private companies have stepped up to offer garbage shipping services to take Oahu’s trash to the mainland. The City recently put a bid out to ship 150,000 tons of Oahu’s municipal waste to the mainland. The low bidder offered to perform this service at slightly below $100/ton and the second lowest bidder offered the service for about $180/ton. Unfortunately, for various technical reasons, the mayor’s administration opted to reject the low bid.

 

If the City government is unable to reach an agreement with a private company to ship waste off-island, we should allow the private sector to move forward and contract with local private garbage collectors, without the City’s intervention, to ship our garbage outof-state. We have a major landfill space problem and if the City administration is unable to address this problem, then the City administration should stay out of the way when private companies address this issue.

 

As a general statement, Americans produce too much waste. In Hawaii this isn’t just bad for the environment, but also a health and safety problem for our community. There is no one simple fix to this problem, but shipping is one part of getting us to the solution.