The Hawaii County Council will discuss how to better handle the county’s plastic waste, although it is unclear what effect it can actually have.
A resolution at this week’s meeting of the county council Committee on Regenerative Agriculture, Water, Energy & Environmental Management asks the county to conform with the Basel Convention, a 1992 international treaty intended to reduce the movements of hazardous waste around the world.
Hilo-Hamakua councilwoman Heather Kimball, who introduced the resolution, said the measure is intended to “advance public discussion around waste on our island.”
“We need to be able to fully understand the life cycle of our waste,” Kimball said, explaining that the county’s goals for environmentalism would be undermined if the county sends its waste to places that dispose of it improperly or unethically.
“None of us want to see a situation where our waste goes into streams or is handled by child labor,” Kimball said.
The resolution follows a state resolution passed in the House of Representatives this year urging the state to comply with the Basel Convention.
The Convention was amended in 2019 to include plastic waste among its list of hazardous waste.
Kimball said it doesn’t include every kind of plastic, but most common plastics are included.
Although 199 nations are party to the Convention, the United States is not one of them, having signed, but not ratified, the Convention in 1990.
“Resolutions like this are important to send a message to the federal government that they should agree to (the Convention),” Kimball said, adding that other municipalities around the country have made similar resolutions.
Kimball acknowledged that the resolution is non-binding and cannot compel the county’s actions in any way.
But even if it were binding, it is unclear whether it would have any effect on the county at all.
“The reality is we’re not collecting or shipping any plastic waste right now,” said Greg Goodale, chief of the County Department of Environmental Management’s Solid Waste Division. “So it wouldn’t really affect us one way or the other.”
The county stopped accepting plastic waste in its two-bin recycling program in late 2019. Goodale said that decision was because the contractors hired by the county to handle the waste couldn’t find any buyers willing to pay for it.
“There’s just too much of it,” Goodale said, explaining that the markets have become oversaturated with U.S.-generated plastic waste, which he does not predict will change anytime soon.
But, even when the county did collect plastic waste, the countries that ultimately received it — places like China, Vietnam and Indonesia — are signatories of the Basel Convention, which, by extension, put the county in compliance with the Convention as well.
“I understand the purpose of the councilwoman’s resolution, but in reality it won’t change what we’re doing at all,” Goodale said.