Greener BeeGreen ElectronicsCouncil talks trash: West Hawaii landfill expected to last 150 years

There’s really no “away” in throwing things away, but the West Hawaii landfill at Puuanahulu comes close.

Environmental Management officials predict the landfill has enough room for 150 years worth of garbage, even when, as expected, the Hilo landfill closes and all East Hawaii garbage goes there as well. The Hilo landfill has an expected one and a half to two years left, and there will be no new one built on the windward side of the island.

“There’s no question. That’s where it’s going,” Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski said Thursday of the West Hawaii landfill. “Where else?”

The Hilo landfill, meanwhile, has restricted the amount of large debris, such as construction waste, that can go there, with larger loads redirected to Puuanahulu. Closing the landfill and monitoring it for the required 20 years will add another $20 million or more to the budget.

The current operating budget for the entire department is about $50 million annually of the $474 million county budget. Some 101 of the 165 employees work in the Solid Waste Division.

With the current staff and budget, the department can’t tackle everything at once, Kucharski said. While dealing with household waste, the department also tries to separate out green waste, electronic waste, HI-5 recyclables and other trash. Green waste accounts for 12 percent to 15 percent of the waste stream, Kucharski said. Most of that is currently separated out and used as mulch.

The county is currently renegotiating a contract for a composting facility, as it looks to trim the cost of the current contract and find a new site for it in light of community opposition.

“Attacking it a stream at a time, that’s the best we can do,” Kucharski said.

Electronic waste has become a bit of an issue. Solid Waste Division Chief Greg Goodale said there have been no interested bidders on the west side of the island to take on the county subsidized program. On the east side, Hilo’s Mr. K’s is between contracts, president Roy Kadota said, so he has to charge people to leave their old televisions and computers there.

The county operates once-monthly free electronics drop-offs at four island locations. The Hawaii Electronic Waste and Television Recycling and Recovery Law requires manufacturers of covered electronic devices and televisions to operate recycling programs. However, neighbor island users have to mail their electronics to Oahu in order to participate in the program.

Wastewater is also a big concern for the department, Kucharski said. The county expects to hike sewer fees to pay for improvements to the system.

“We have been doing a sewer rate study that’s probably eight or nine years later than it should be,” Kucharski told the County Council Finance Committee. “The sewer study is in progress.”

Council members were concerned about sewage leaks, especially in light of the recent 40,000-plus-gallon spill into Hilo Bay.

“Our population has grown, and with it comes the problem of waste management,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards.

Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara noted that hours at the county’s 22 transfer stations were reduced during the recession and not brought back. She worried about illegally dumped waste.

“Is there any hope of expanding those hours back to their original hours?” O’Hara asked.

“People are just dumping because our services are not open to them,” said Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, saying she’s seeing more trash in gulches along the highway.

It’s not likely, said Goodale. He cited cost as the main factor, adding that the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours are reasonable. The transfer stations are open from three days a week to seven days a week, depending how heavily used it is.

“The hours the transfer stations are open are very adequate for the working folks,” Goodale said.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at

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