County Council weighs options for isle’s waste

WAILUKU – Maui generates more than 450 tons of waste per day, more than half of which is not recycled and ends up in the Central Maui Landfill, and Maui County Council members are weighing various options and proposals that may revolutionize the way waste is handled in the future.

“The process of landfilling leads to fugitive methane, wasted resources, high costs and basically trash-filled aina,” Maui County Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza told the council’s Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee in a presentation Monday.

About 43 percent of the county’s solid waste is diverted from landfills and either recycled or used for other purposes. Maui EKO Compost diverts the most waste from the landfill – 17.3 percent of sewage sludge – to process and use as recycled compost. Another company, Pacific Biodiesel, diverts the fats, oils and grease from the landfill to produce clean energy.

In the last few months, Ginoza and his department have been working on an effort to boost the county’s diversion rate from 43 percent to more than 85 percent by implementing a waste-to-energy plant that would convert trash into either refuse-derived fuel or liquefied natural gas.

“Really we’re trying to figure out how do we try to reap the most diversion as quickly as possible while we are still trying to develop our recycling program,” Ginoza said.

Long-term recycling programs that aim for “highest and best use” practices, such as the curbside recycling pilot program, are often costly, and the department lacks the funds to support many of them, Ginoza said.

In April, the county selected Anaergia Service of Carlsbad, Calif., to build a $100 million-plus facility on county land near the Central Maui Landfill. The deal is still undergoing negotiations and is contingent upon the County Council’s approval. The private entity would be responsible for the entire start-up cost but would collect from the county $68 per ton for solid waste disposal; $76 per ton for sewage sludge; $100 for fats, oils and grease; and $29 for segregated green waste.

The county currently pays a tipping fee of $75.60 per ton of solid waste and $30 for green waste. The county pays Maui EKO Compost $80 for each ton of sewage sludge processed, an average of about $2 million per year.

In addition to immediate savings of taxpayer dollars, Ginoza said that the county would save on the “long-term costs” of developing and maintaining landfills. In addition to the negative impacts a landfill has on the environment, it also costs $1 million per acre to build a landfill, according to an expert on waste combustion.

Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, agrees that the county should be diverting more waste from its landfills but suggests that a “zero waste” policy has benefited communities across the country and around the world and can help Maui as well.

“Maui doesn’t generate waste; it generates highly refined resources,” Hershkowitz said during the committee meeting Monday. “Every category of waste has its proper disposal route. Government policy and private investment should encourage the proper routing of all materials.”

Plastics, metals, glass, paper, food scraps, yard waste, rubber, textiles and leather are components of municipal waste that are not suitable for waste-to-energy and should be recycled instead of combusted, Hershkowitz said.

“In the United States, we are paying to bring nonburnable materials to furnaces, and then paying again to bring the contaminated ash to a landfill. These things should not be burned, they should be recycled,” Hershkowitz said.

County officials expressed concern that while such initiatives may be effective on the Mainland, Maui County’s location often makes it cheaper to dump the waste into a landfill than to ship it off-island for recycling.

“We have large transportation costs with our recyclables,” Council Member Mike White said. “How do we address that when the cost of transportation might exceed the value of the recyclables?”

Hershkowitz, who was visiting the island from New York, admitted that he was not familiar with the complexities of the island’s shipping costs but noted that both New York and Los Angeles ship many of their recyclables to China, and “you guys are a lot closer to China than we are.”

He also suggested legislation that would “extend producer responsibility,” which would require the product manufacturers to cover waste-management costs associated with the packaging of consumer goods.

“This is where Maui can get the funds to do the right thing. As long as Maui continues to rely on taxpayer money to finance recycling programs, it will never have the money to achieve high recycling rates,” Hershkowitz said. “A lot of consumer packaging is not just to protect product but consumer advertising, and now taxpayers are subsidizing the costs of that marketing.”

Additionally, producer responsibility laws would motivate companies, many of which currently use packaging laced with heavy metals and plastics, to redefine their products with waste reduction in mind, Hershkowitz said.

Extended producer responsibility legislation already has been implemented in Europe, Canada and Latin America, and variations for electronics have been enacted in a number of states.

Both Ginoza and Hershkowitz agreed that reducing the amount of waste that goes into the landfill should be the county’s top priority.

“Recycling markets may vary, but . . . they’re not making any more land. That is one of your most valuable and precious resources,” Hershkowitz said. “We need to make environmentally intelligent decisions . . . what we do today will affect thousands of generations in the future, can by can, bottle by bottle.”

An event titled “Anaerobic Discussion” is scheduled to be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 in the new science lecture hall (‘Ike Lea building) on the University of Hawaii Maui College campus. The event, the second installment in the two-part “Talkin’ Trash” series, will feature speakers Hershkowitz, Ginoza and Arun Sharma, president of Anaergia Services.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at