Some opala more essential than others: New transfer station restrictions start Friday

  • The Kealakehe Transfer Station is closed for green waste disposal. Residents must instead take the waste to the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill in Puuanahulu. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)

  • BILL KUCHARSKI

  • The Keei Transfer station is closed for green waste disposal. Residents must instead take the waste to the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill in Puuanahulu. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)

Complaints are piling up as fast as the opala as the county tries to get a grip on rubbish disposal during a statewide stay-at-home order.

The county cut back in early April on services such as scrap metal, HI-5 redemption, green waste, reuse and electronic waste disposal when the stay-at-home order went into effect. Now, new service cutbacks are being contemplated for May, as the islands roll into their second month of social distancing.

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Some 80% of county Environmental Management staff are working full time, Director Bill Kucharski said Wednesday. He said it’s an essential service to keep the sewers running and collect garbage for health and sanitation reasons. Other DEM services the county sees as more of a convenience rather than being essential.

“The governor’s proclamation called for essential services to be carried out and nonessential services to be stopped,” Kucharski said. “What DEM is doing is carrying out essential services. I understand this is difficult. But we have a pandemic.”

He said limiting the services at the county’s 22 transfer stations helps limit the spread of the coronavirus by reducing the number of people at the stations and enforcing social distancing. But some residents see other services, especially green waste collection at transfer stations, as essential, not just a convenience.

“So, what are we supposed to do with the normal daily accumulation of waste? Let it pile up?” John Pierce of Waikoloa asked in an April 22 letter to the West Hawaii Today editor. “If the county will not provide curbside service for garbage then they must keep the transfer station open for all types of waste that does accumulate for the average household, which includes the metal cans and green waste. Do they think that landscape plants will magically stop growing and therefore not need to be pruned, lawns not mown? Did they even think?”

Ric Rocker of Waimea added his thoughts in a letter sent Wednesday to the editor.

“One way to turn this lemon into lemonade is to take advantage of this time-out to address projects that we didn’t have the time to do before COVID. Prior to the closing of the green waste in Waimea it was obvious that many of my neighbors were doing just that and clearing their properties and some of them began planting gardens and fruit trees,” Rocker said. “One of the important facilities that is an integral part of this that needs to remain open to support this resurgence in agriculture in our traditionally agricultural community is the green waste in Waimea.”

Kucharski estimates he’s gotten 30 to 40 phone calls from people complaining about green waste disposal. He points out that green waste is accepted at the Hilo and Puuanahulu landfills, so residents do have an option.

“An essential service is making sure your household waste has a place to go and it’s handled safely. Green waste is not an essential service,” Kucharski said. “The fact that people are home and have time to work on their garden does not make it an essential service of the county.”

Changes starting Friday include limits to the size and frequency of trash dropoff at the county’s 22 transfer stations. Residential drop-offs will be limited to one a day, with a maximum size load of 3 cubic yards — the equivalent of a full-sized pickup truck with an 8-foot bed filled up to the side rails.

Glass and cardboard recycling at transfer stations will be accepted only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., even though the transfer stations will continue their 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule. That’s so county Environmental Management staff can monitor to ensure the recycled materials aren’t contaminated with non-recyclables such as pizza boxes, Kucharski said.

The purpose of the load restrictions is to give residential users free service at the transfer stations while trying to prevent commercial users from taking advantage of the residential service, he said. Commercial users, which includes contractors and owners/managers of rental homes, are required to go to the county landfills and pay tipping fees.

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County scrap metal, HI-5 redemption, reuse and electronic waste disposal won’t be restarted Friday, nor will green waste disposal be allowed at transfer stations.

People can redeem HI-5 materials at several private businesses around the island, including Atlas Recycling Centers in Kailua-Kona, Waimea and Hilo, Business Services Hawaii locations at Shipman Business Park and Pahoa, and Mr. K’s Recycle Redemption in Hilo.

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