Council gives green light to compost program

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Despite concerns over how much a county contractor may charge residents for compost, the County Council on Wednesday gave the Department of Environmental Management the go-ahead to pursue a new green waste program.

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Despite concerns over how much a county contractor may charge residents for compost, the County Council on Wednesday gave the Department of Environmental Management the go-ahead to pursue a new green waste program.

The council voted 8-0, with Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter absent, to allow the department to enter into one or more 10-year contracts to implement green waste collection sites in either East Hawaii or West Hawaii or both.

Under the plan, proposals will be sought for a composter that could handle the addition of food and contaminated paper to the waste stream, increasing the amount of waste diverted from landfills by about a third. The current green waste diversion program merely grinds the waste and untreated wood pallets into mulch, which is free to the public.

Waste would be composted and sold, and also turned into mulch that would be treated in windrows to kill fire ants in a process known as PFRP, or “process to further reduce pathogens.” The mulch would remain free for residents.

The price of the compost to residents would be set by the contractor, which factors the compost price into the price it charges the county to process the waste.

That bothered Puna Councilman Danny Paleka, who wanted to know if residents would be able to afford to buy the compost made with their garbage. He also questioned how much mulch, would be available.

“I’m just concerned about the price for our communities,” Paleka said, adding that perhaps the county should take over the project as a service instead of contracting it out.

Solid Waste Division Chief Greg Goodale said the contractor would need to set the price of the compost in order to offset the price it charges the county.

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“The compost is the value-added product,” Goodale said. “We’re still going to provide the mulch free of charge but it will go through the PFRP process.”

While the two contracts together could cost the county up to $5 million annually, the county will save money in the long run, said Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille. She noted that organic waste accounts for more than 54 percent of the county garbage stream. Keeping that out of the landfills will extend their lifespans and also save money on capturing landfill gas caused by rotting materials, she said.

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