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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 19, 2010

Hawaii curbside recycling falls 15%

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

The average amount of material recycled by homes getting curbside pickup fell about 15 percent during the past year, mainly because of declining newsprint consumption.

Homes getting curbside service dumped an average of nearly 22 pounds a month into the green and blue bins during the 12 months ended Feb. 28. That's about 4 pounds less material per home year-over-year, based on figures provided by the Department of Environmental Services. During that period the number of homes involved in the program doubled to about 120,000.

Old newspapers account for the majority of recycled material collected via the weekly curbside pickups, followed by cardboard, glass, plastic and aluminum. However, during the past year, average household recycling of newsprint fell 3.6 pounds to 9.9 pounds a month. Declining newsprint consumption is a result of a weak advertising market, economic recession and a migration of advertising to Internet-based competition.

The reduced household recycling rate also follows the relatively fast expansion of the program since late 2008, coupled with a slowing economy and reduced consumer consumption. City officials hope that recycling rates will climb as the program completes an islandwide rollout to a total of 160,000 homes next month and as residents become more familiar with the program.

"There is a learning curve when people get their cans; it takes them a little while to get used to the idea of separating out what trash you put in the gray bin and what trash you put in the blue bin," said city Environmental Services Director Tim Steinberger. "In the long run, we want to be as successful as a lot of the Mainland cities that have been doing this for some time, and it looks like we're well on our way."

The city plans to release a comprehensive evaluation of the curbside recycling program this summer. Based on information released so far, the city has collected more than 19,000 tons of mixed recyclables since the program started rolling out in late 2008. That's a fraction of the more than 400,000 tons of residential waste collected annually . However, material that's recycled helps reduce pressure on the city's near-capacity landfill.


According to a 2008 study of an earlier pilot curbside recycling service, curbside recycling was expected to result in a net increase of 25,800 tons of mixed recyclables and 28,000 tons of green waste collected annually.

The environmental benefits of curbside recycling come at a cost. The startup costs of implementing islandwide curbside recycling, which includes buying 260,000 recycling bins, is projected at $24 million. That includes expanding the service to another 40,000 homes next month at a cost of $6 million.

On top of that, there are operational costs covered by contracts with local private companies to handle green waste and recyclables. The city expects to pay RRR Recycling Services $49.75 per ton to process mixed recyclables under a pending one-year contract. However, under the terms of that proposed deal, the city is expected to recoup an estimated $1.75 million from the value of the material recycled.

According to the city, a mature, islandwide curbside recycling program wouldn't cost more because of reduced transfer costs, the elimination of manual green waste collection routes and the switch to one weekly refuse pickup.

The expansion of curbside recycling followed voter approval of a 2006 city Charter amendment that added curbside recycling to the city's environmental duties. Under the program, homes give up a second weekly garbage pickup in exchange for a weekly pickup of recyclables or green waste.

Next month, the program will expand into Makakilo, Waikele, Waipahu, 'Ewa Beach and other West O'ahu communities. Council members last year voted to raise taxes and fees in part to continue the expansion of a curbside recycling program to the remaining parts of O'ahu.

A lack of familiarity with how the program works could be behind an increase in nonrecyclable material being placed into curbside recycling bins. That "contamination rate" has risen from about 3.5 percent from the program's inception to as high as 7.5 percent in November and December.

City Councilman Todd Apo, who represents West O'ahu, pegged the rise in contamination rates to the rise in homes participating in the program.

"I think that's what it is," he said. "You're adding a whole bunch of new homes (and) there isn't as much public attention as there was when the first group went out. As you add new areas, you're going to go through that learning curve, but that's a necessity that you have to evolve through.

"I think what's borne out by this program is that you don't" need twice-a-week trash pickup, Apo added. "Had we been doing twice-a-week pickup, plus the recycling, that's when you start to get into expenses that may not justify what you're gaining out of it."

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