County throwing away more, recycling less

  • A commercial hauler stops to be wieghed at the Puuanahulu Landfill on Friday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • The public dumping area of the Hawaii County Hilo landfill is pictured recently. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Hawaii County’s rate of recycling or otherwise diverting garbage from the landfill has dropped 48% in the past decade, according to a comprehensive report released Friday by a commission that meets once a decade to evaluate solid waste practices.

Recycling tonnage reported to the county by local businesses and the amount of recyclables managed by the county decreased from a 36.1% diversion rate in fiscal year 2009-10 to 20.8% in fiscal year 2017-18, and landfill disposal increased from 155,682 tons to 224,196 tons over the same period, the county’s draft Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan states.


The county has scheduled information sessions on the 392-page plan for 5-7 p.m. Monday at the NELHA Gateway visitors center in Kailua-Kona and 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at Aupuni Center conference room in Hilo. The information sessions are to answer the public’s questions about the plan prior to public hearings scheduled for Jan. 21 and Jan. 23.

The data doesn’t account for non-county-sponsored (private) recycling or diversions, the report cautions. These could include big-box stores such as Costco and Walmart that ship combined bales of cardboard and plastic to either the West Coast to third-party brokers or to the retailer’s distribution center, or contractors or nonprofit groups that also sell recycled materials directly to brokers on the mainland.

The numbers may also be skewed because the county began sending most of the scrap metal recycling to the private sector starting in 2013, which took a significant tonnage out of the equation.

Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski praised the work of the five-member Solid Waste Advisory Committee, which has been meeting monthly since May 2018. The committee did its work with the help of two consultants: the Seattle-based Parametrix and the Hilo-based Wesley R. Segawa and Associates Inc.

Kucharski declined to address specific recommendations until he hears from the public.

“The solid waste management plan is designed to give an overview at 10,000-foot level of what we’re doing and what direction we should be going,” Kucharski said Friday. “The committee put in many, many hundreds of hours and took a look at a number of different options. I think this is a really healthy exercise to go through.”

Unlike prior commissions’ recommendations, a bag-tag pay-per-throw plan drew very little support, ending below many other recommendations. The concept of having those who toss the trash pay for the privilege has generally been met with opposition and fears that it would increase illegal dumping around the island.

The committee recommends the county continue using taxpayer dollars to support solid waste programs, rather than expect the programs to be able to pay for themselves in the short-term.

The plan includes 82 recommendations covering nine solid waste management programs. The top six in the draft report:

• Conduct education, outreach, and public awareness campaigns

• Regularly review and, when appropriate, renegotiate the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill contract

• Conduct additional household hazardous waste collection events

• Change county code to allow small businesses to drop off recyclables at recycling and transfer stations

• Establish goals that are expressed and measured in terms of environmental impacts (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions, toxicity, energy use) and consider full life cycle impacts, in addition to tonnage-based landfill diversion or waste recovery goals

• Develop county policy and ordinances related to source reduction and recycling


Written testimony from the public will be accepted through Feb. 4. Testimony should include your name and contact information and can be submitted by email to: or by U.S. Mail to Department of Environmental Management ATTN: ISWMP 345 Kekuanaoa St., Suite 41 Hilo, HI 96720.

The full report can be found at

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