Mulch ado about green waste

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Some landscape companies are crying foul over a new county policy requiring them to truck their green waste to the Puuanahulu or Hilo landfills and pay a tipping fee to dispose of it.

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Some landscape companies are crying foul over a new county policy requiring them to truck their green waste to the Puuanahulu or Hilo landfills and pay a tipping fee to dispose of it.

The requirements and tipping fee have been on the books since 2005, but Mayor Billy Kenoi’s administration delayed implementing them during the recession. The law is slated to go into effect Monday.

The new fee will not affect individual residents or homeowners who will continue to be allowed to drop off residential green waste free at seven transfer stations around the island: Hilo, Puuanahulu, Kealakehe, Keei, Puako, Pahoa and Keaau.

Commercial operators will be charged $21.25 per ton, which is 25 percent of the normal solid waste tipping fee of $85 per ton. They are not allowed to use the transfer stations, but must take their green waste to recycling sites at the landfills, the only two sites that have scales.

That’s about 30 miles farther for Kona-area companies to haul their waste; a cost that will have to be factored into their price, said Kailua-Kona landscaper Chris Yeaton. He said the county sprung the changes on them quickly and didn’t give them enough time to react.

“We’ve been doing it this way for the last 30 years,” he said Thursday. “Deferring it six months would make sense.”

Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, director of the Department of Environmental Management, said she understands the transition may be difficult for some commercial landscapers, but she said it’s a good time to implement the 10-year-old law now that the economy is recovering and gas prices are lower.

The green waste haulers have been the only ones allowed to dump at transfer stations, and not only have there been complaints from residents who must wait in line behind them, she’s also heard from haulers of other kinds of waste, who aren’t allowed to dump there.

“It makes it fairer for all the other people who haul commercial waste,” she said. “This has been on the books since 2005.”

West Hawaii Today published the county’s announcement Feb. 3. The county also put a sign up at the Kealakehe transfer station around that time. And, Leithead Todd said, transfer station workers handed out brochures to green waste haulers. But Yeaton said that’s not notice enough.

Yeaton and others cited added costs, increased traffic on Queen Kaahumanu Highway and increased risk of illegal dumping.

The county currently pays more than $1.6 million a year to recycle green waste into mulch that is distributed free to the community, and consumers across the island are asking for more recycling opportunities closer to home, Leithead Todd said.

The new tipping fee is expected to raise more than $500,000 a year to help finance an expansion of organics recycling services islandwide, including establishing new green waste recycling locations at additional transfer stations.

The first of these new green waste recycling facilities will be established May 1 at the Waimea transfer station, Leithead Todd said. The department also plans to begin accepting green waste at the Hawi Recycling and Transfer Station later this year, and plans to add additional green waste collection and recycling sites in 2016.

“Adding new green waste drop-off and recycling locations at additional transfer stations will help us to divert more organics from our waste stream, and will extend the life of our landfills,” Leithead Todd said in a statement. “Our residents have been asking for more recycling opportunities and we feel the timing is right to launch this initiative.”

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The fee structure could also encourage private-sector companies to obtain more green waste from haulers to convert to mulch and compost, she said. They could, in theory, charge the haulers less than the county, making it more cost-effective for them to produce garden products locally.

The county is also waiving loading fees for small loads of mulch, less than 3.5 cubic yards, that are picked up by residential customers at the Kealakehe transfer station. A full-sized pickup truck bed holds about 2.5 cubic yards. The county has expanded the service from two days per week to seven days per week to encourage more residents to use recycled green waste for farming and landscaping.

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