Solid waste focus of council committee’s work

Solid waste management is one focus of the County Council Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee’s work.

Improvements in solid waste management can limit demands on the county’s landfills, saving taxpayer money and preserving the natural environment.

The committee seeks to ensure the Department of Environmental Management has the tools – in both policies and resources – necessary to perform the services appropriately demanded by the community. But it’s an obligation the committee is unable to fulfill if the department doesn’t provide adequate information.

It is unfortunate that crucial news on departmental operations has recently come to the committee not from direct communication, but rather from press releases and even the Opinion section of The Maui News (Viewpoint, July 20). A mayoral directive on June 18 restricting executive-legislative communication contributes to the committee’s frustration.

The communication breakdown has prompted me to take a stronger leadership role in extracting necessary information to facilitate an informed decision-making process.

I have invited the department to make a presentation at Monday’s committee meeting on existing solid waste management policies. This will help the public and committee learn how these policies are being implemented and how can they be improved. The meeting is at 1:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers and will feature other topics related to solid waste management.

A bill introduced by Council Member Mike Victorino to prohibit the use and sale of polystyrene disposable containers by food providers will be considered. The most well-known polystyrene product is Styrofoam. At a previous meeting, opponents of the proposed ban said the cost of alternative disposable containers would create a financial burden for small-business owners, and may increase the cost of plate lunches.

Looking at the bigger picture, however, it’s apparent the substantial cost of managing and mitigating polystyrene waste is already being shouldered not just by a handful of private businesses, but by all Maui County taxpayers.

Similar challenges were addressed when the plastic bag reduction ordinance passed six years ago. Residents adjusted to using paper or reusable bags for grocery shopping. Could a similar lifestyle change – simple but meaningful – be implemented by shifting to environmentally friendly food containers?

The committee will also consider a resolution, also introduced by Victorino, to adopt “zero waste” as a solid waste management policy for the county. The following quote from Berkeley Ecology Center summarizes the concept of zero waste: “If a product can’t be reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.”

I encourage the public to provide testimony and share insight on how the county can make progress in solid waste management. Email the committee at

* Elle Cochran holds the County Council seat for the West Maui residency area. She is the chair of the Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.