County may trash drop boxes

Dropping off your cardboard, newspaper and nonredeemable glass and plastic bottles at some neighborhood county recycling centers may become a thing of the past under a proposal by Mayor Alan Arakawa.

The mayor confirmed Tuesday that he is seeking to eliminate around $700,000 in funding from the 2013-14 budget for recycling drop boxes at half of the county’s eight funded recycling centers on Maui.

This will eliminate the county duplicating a service already provided by the private sector, and taxpayer money could go to other needs, Arakawa said.

HI-5 redemption services will remain available at all centers, he added.

County-funded recycling drop boxes are proposed to be eliminated at the Kahului site at the University of Hawaii Maui College as well as at the Kihei site off of East Welakahao Road. Those centers are close to private businesses where items can be recycled, county officials said. The other two sites to be eliminated have not yet been determined.

The mayor’s proposal alarmed some in the recycling business community as well as residents who use the centers. Some critics feared that the elimination of the drop boxes would mean that people would go back to dumping cardboard, newspaper and nonredeemable recyclables back into the landfill.

But in a phone interview Tuesday and in a written statement, Arakawa said that he and the county have been supporting recycling efforts for decades and will continue do so through efforts such as its automobile recycling program.

“We are trying to allow the public sector to get into those areas,” he explained.

Arakawa noted that the public will have a chance to have its say.

“There are many of us in the community who are dedicated to recycling and while this announcement may have come as a surprise to some, it is the absence of supporting information that has caused the most alarm,” he said in a written statement. “I can assure the public that they will have ample opportunity to share their input as we enter the budget review process.”

The Maui County Council is currently considering the mayor’s proposed budget.

Arakawa added that residents may not realize that it costs the county 15 times more to recycle items than it does to put them in the landfill. That translates to more than $300 a ton more to process recyclables than to deposit them in the landfill. As an example, Arakawa noted that to recycle two small bags of newspapers dropped off in Hana, it costs the county more than $8 to transport and process such a small amount of material.

The mayor said that fliers circulated at a residential recycling center by a private company contained only partial information “and ensuing rumors have spawned a great deal of misinformation.”

Aloha Recycling said that it passed out fliers in hopes of educating the public and garnering support to keep the current system alive, said Sherri Pell, manager of Aloha Recycling in Kahului, which holds a contract from the county to haul the non-HI5 recyclables from four different county recycling sites.

She said that private companies cannot immediately step in to handle the recycling drop boxes once the contracts lapse because, among other things, there are various permits to be obtained.

Tom Reed, owner of Aloha Recycling, is concerned that if recycling drop boxes are removed from areas such as Upcountry, people won’t have a convenient place to rid themselves of their recyclables and might choose to dump the items in their trash cans instead.

“People don’t want to store (recyclables) in their garage and load up the family car once a month or something (and) come all the way down here (in Kahului,)” said Reed. “If they can go a few miles down the street to Haiku or Makawao or where they live, it lets them recycle more often and in a more efficient manner.”

In the last calendar year, Reed said his company received $60,000 from the county to haul material from the recycling bins.

“Even with the assistance from the county . . . it’s not exactly making us all wealthy. We are doing OK,” Reed said. “It’s not something that people want to run out and set up a new business.”

When asked if his company would take on the handling of the recycling drop box material without a county contract, Reed said: “That’s a tough call.”

He explained that hauling is a major effort and that costs increase when recyclables are hauled from places such as Haiku to Central Maui. There is not a high amount of “value” in recyclables, such as cardboard, newspaper and glass, when all cost factors are added in.

Reaction to the mayor’s proposal from those at the Kahului recycling site at UH-Maui College were mixed Tuesday afternoon.

Jay Van Zwalenburg, who was recycling stacks of newspapers and compost, said that the Kahului recycling center is the closest facility to where she lives in Paia.

“I don’t care what the mayor does, as long as he doesn’t take away the bins, and I can drop my recyclables off,” she said.

Van Zwalenburg said she visits the center a couple of times a month or “whenever things pile up.”

Matt Hendricks of Pukalani also was at the recycling center. He was more concerned about the lack of curbside pickup for compost and recyclables in Hawaii.

“When I first moved here, I was a little surprised that Hawaii was lacking in recycling and didn’t have curbside pickup,” said Hendricks who moved from Santa Cruz, Calif., five years ago. “I think it would do wonders.”

* Staff Writer Chris Sugidono contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at