Viewpoint: County official clarifies reasons for recycling bin, waste energy efforts

As a taxpaying Maui citizen, I strongly believe in sustainability of our island resources. As director of Environmental Management, it is my job to execute that message with fiscal responsibility of our tax dollars.

Consequently, it pains me when individuals from the community consciously disparage efforts we consider to reach that goal, using half-truths and incorrect information. There are two such efforts that need clarification, namely county-sponsored recycling and the waste conversion project.

There has been much press lately about the county’s consideration of scaling back or eliminating the county-funded drop-box centers. Residents typically collect cardboard, newspaper, plastics, glass, etc. in their garage, and once there is a sufficient quantity to warrant a trip, they load their vehicle and take it to the drop-box center.

From there, the county pays $303 a ton to take that material from the drop box to a processor to then ship the material to China (all materials except glass).

The cost the county taxpayers pay for the drop boxes is more than 15 times the cost to landfill that same material.

That’s a sizable chunk of change to pay and the shipping and further processing also come with an environmental price tag. The last time I made a trip to a county drop box with my family’s recyclables, it would have cost the county around $20 to get it off island.

Instead, I took it to a private recycling center and it cost the county nothing. That is the crux of the dilemma we face. There are private recycling centers on Maui that require no county subsidy, yet the county is heavily subsidizing operations to compete with these entities.

It is true that the county drop boxes add convenience to the public through more locations, but is it worth the cost?

I recently conducted an informal survey of hundreds of residents. Public response varied from those who believed the county was actually making money from its recycling program to those who were willing to pay a little extra to have their items recycled.

However, everyone surveyed was appalled to learn that the cost to recycle is actually 15 times more than to landfill. That was the basis of the discussion to consider scaling back county-subsidized drop-box centers – public input.

Lastly, much has been discussed regarding the county’s waste conversion project, which entails a consolidated effort in waste management, specifically to determine a sound method to divert the waste we generate and produce a renewable fuel or energy from it.

We will soon announce a proposal which we will advance to the County Council and the public for review and input. Please know that we will not put forth a solution which results in an overall detriment to the environment or that is not cost effective.

These are exciting times for dealing with the island’s waste management concerns. The department is looking to foster economic development through the waste conversion project, which, incidentally, will be wholly paid for by the proposer.

Waste conversion does not mean abandoning recycling; it means bolstering recycling and over 80 percent diversion from the landfill. Stay tuned.

* Kyle Ginoza is director of the Maui County Department of Environmental Management.