In search of a solid waste solution

  • A commercial hauler heads to the Puuanahulu landfill in this file photo. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — A resolution urging the departments of Environmental Management and Research and Development put their heads together to come up with a way to reduce waste and generate clean energy received unanimous backing at a committee hearing and is scheduled Wednesday for its final County Council vote.

The nonbinding Resolution 301 has been amended to urge analysis of a variety of available technologies for doing so, while specifically excluding waste incineration and requiring the identification of the full life cycle environmental impacts of waste reduction.

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“I think you did address some of the concerns that had been raised earlier,” North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff said earlier this month to Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, who sponsored the measure.

The council has scheduled the final reading for its meeting in Kona, with public comment allowed at the beginning of the 9 a.m. gathering. Testifiers can also participate in Hilo council chambers, the Waimea and Pahoa council offices, the old Kohala courthouse and the Naalehu state office building.

Richards had wanted all options evaluated without favoring any particular one, but public comment has leaned heavily against incineration.

“The bigger picture is, we have a waste-stream problem. We are not doing enough to affect it,” Richards said. “What this resolution does, is empowers Environmental Management and Research and Development to get together to start with a fresh, clean sheet of paper and start coming up with potential plans. … It’s not just managing the end stream, but it’s also reducing the waste stream coming in.”

An amendment to the resolution also acknowledges the struggle the county is experiencing finding markets for its mixed materials recycling, which is contaminated with as much as 25% nonrecyclable waste.

“In my opinion, this resolution could not come at a better time,” said Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski. “If we want to be sustainable, if we really want to come in and make us as a people, as an island, as a state get ourselves into a sustainable mode, we need to understand what sustainable means. That means using everything that we can to its fullest extent.”

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The county has little control over its waste because it has no say about what kind of products and packaging enter the island. The HI-5 beverage container redemption process takes some glass and plastic bottles out of the waste stream. Hawaii Island’s 87% redemption rate is the highest in the state, but it’s not been increasing.

While no one has settled on a specific technology, there’s a lot of interest in some kind of gasification system that would create gas to convert to hydrogen for vehicles and batteries. Gasification models and anaerobic digesters can handle organic waste as well as plastics.

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