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Viewpoint: Why has the county given up on recycling goals?

July 1, 2013

By JEFF STARK , The Maui News

For more than 20 years the people of Maui County have supported a solid waste resource management regime built on a 3R philosophy – reduce, reuse, recycle. As a result, we now divert more than 40 percent of our waste stream from our landfills. Given the fact that the national average is near 33 percent, many Mauians feel a sense of justifiable pride in this accomplishment.

We have achieved this accomplishment by creating a consortium of for-profit recycling companies, community organizations and Maui County government. Overall guidance has come from the county’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan. Since the plan was developed in 1992 it has been updated on a regular basis. The current version was developed by a diverse group – some representatives were members of the community appointed by then-Mayor Charmaine Tavares, others were paid consultants, while still others were county employees. The advisory panel of 16 community members represented the visitor industry, nonprofit environmental organizations (including Maui Recycling Group), Maui’s recycling industry, agricultural operators, economic development organizations, representatives from the islands of Molokai and Lanai, and others. They were assisted by a Mainland-based engineering/consulting firm. Their work included visiting several Mainland venues in order to learn about how other communities were choosing to deal with their solid waste resource management issues.

These community leaders drafted a revision of Maui’s ISWMP that called for the county to achieve a 60 percent landfill diversion rate prior to consideration of a waste-to-energy component. The rationale behind this recommendation is that our existing 3R approach and programs represent our best opportunity to achieve our goals. In addition, this approach also provides for more jobs, more revenue to the county and more economic growth and, no less important, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In short, recycling and its associated activities are best for our economy and our environment.

Rather than focus on the policies and programs which have the best chance to achieve the mandated 60 percent diversion rate, the current administration has chosen to abandon that goal. Instead, its choice is to commit to a single WTE program/technology operated by a company which promises more recycling and a WTE component. The administration claims this will result in an 85 percent diversion rate and will be environmentally positive and economically productive. The primary element of the administration’s proposal is a organics management system, which will essentially do no more than the various programs already in place at the landfill.

In addition, the company proposes to develop an as-yet-unspecified system to process all of our mixed waste, rather than focusing on the recyclables and produce a “refuse derived fuel” (The Maui News, April 26) for which there are currently no markets on Maui.

This decision has the potential to derail our entire solid waste management strategy. It also threatens our existing recyclers and will cause us to lose jobs and the revenues that are currently generated by the economic activity spawned by our recycling industry. According to scientific reports and estimates, recycling often produces 10 to 20 percent more jobs than WTE. If Maui proceeds with a WTE program, it will needlessly expose our community to the loss of dozens of high-paying jobs