It is time for a return to recycling

Three years ago, on March 27, 2013, The Maui News ran a short article under the headline: “Mayor to close recycling drop boxes and reduce county’s recycling budget.” One reaction to this news was a campaign by Maui’s recycling industry and advocates to save Maui’s successful recycling programs, a campaign that is still ongoing today.

From the recyclers’ point of view there was a good deal to save. According to official County of Maui reports, our landfill diversion rate (the industrywide metric used to measure recycling success) was then at an all-time high of 43.2 percent. This rate made Maui No. 1 in Hawaii and was some 25 percent over the national rate. The current Maui rate is believed to be considerably lower. We don’t know for sure because the Arakawa administration has not released any reports.

The main reason for all this activity is that Mayor Alan Arakawa and his administration attempted to commit Maui to a “waste-to-energy” (WTE) regime. The administration, and the vendor for the project, Anaergia Services Inc., made a number of claims and promises. Chief among them was that the WTE program would come at “no cost” to the county. This and other claims have been investigated in the performance audit of the Department of Environmental Management. The audit report findings indicate that, if implemented, the WTE program will cost the county millions. In addition, the recycling community, using figures derived from the “Agreement” defining the WTE programs, has identified additional costs, also in the millions.

Given the audit report and the current state of the WTE deal, it seems reasonable to conclude that it will not go forward. If that is the case, and even if it is not the case, there is no compelling reason we should not now move forward with re-energizing existing recycling programs and with expanding those which have not yet been implemented.

Maui’s existing Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan (ISWMP) is clear on how we should proceed to develop and implement our recycling programs. Included in this document are program descriptions and details, budgets, personnel requirements, etc. Given appropriate leadership and support, these documents could be reviewed, reworked and updated in a fraction of the time involved in their original development. We could stop wasting time, and wasting the “waste” materials that are currently going into our landfills instead of going into recycled products.

Another important element in this “Return To Recycling” effort should be recovering the substantial expertise and experience in management of Maui recycling programs. This storehouse of experience and knowledge was represented by the members of the county’s recycling staff. That staff has now been slashed from four positions to one. Two have been placed on administrative leave, including Hana Steel, Maui’s veteran recycling coordinator. Steel deserves the lion’s share of the credit for our former success. If she is returned to her position she could play a major role in getting us back on track.

Conventional wisdom favors waiting to initiate a return to recycling on Maui until the next election cycle is over. This means a delay of at least one year. In addition, it would probably take a new administration and/or council members a year to complete their work as well.

We believe that restoring recycling in Maui County can be accomplished in the time left before the next election. This could be accomplished by an existing County Council committee or committees, or by a special task force, subcommittee or other effort convened by the council.

We have the time, the will and the tools we need. This is an important effort and should be convened as soon as possible. We look forward to being a part of taking advantage of this unique opportunity.

* Makawao resident Jeff Stark has nearly 30 years’ experience as an environmental writer, advocate and organizer. He wrote a weekly column titled “Our Environment” for The Maui News for many years and is publisher of the Zero Waste Campaign Maui website at www.zerowastemaui.net. He can be reached at jstark@maui.net.


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