Tuesday, June 3, 2008


BURYING THE BONE OF CONTENTION:Dr. Ray Chuan used to say he probably knew more about garbage any other nuclear physicist because it’s the Rosetta Stone of incompetence and corruption in Kaua`i County government and the Department of Public Waste- er, Works- which, guided by the pols that ignore their scams, literally can’t seem to crap or get off the pot..

That was in the 90’s after years of yack-yack-yack- about the yuck yuck yuckiest of all subjects- solid waste.

At the time our landfill was full, we had paid for another useless R.W. Beck study on what to do with it all and people were proposing trash-to-energy projects, recycling and stream separation and the pressing need to open a new dump.

And 15 years later nothing has changed except that we have a third Beck report and Kekaha’s Mount `Opala is getting higher every day.

Beck is a company stuck in the middle ages of solid waste consulting. Their ideas always come down to incrementally more recycling and a new landfill- the latter being the words that strike fear in the hearts of politicians worldwide but especially on little tiny Kaua`i-. oh and maybe an incinerator.

But the national trend in solid waste across the nation is a concept called “Zero-Waste” (ZW) and we actually have a Zero Waste-Kaua`i (ZWK) group that sometimes feels like it’s talking to the wall- the wall resulting from a presentation to the Council from professional Zero-Waste consultants who had instituted ZW systems across the mainland. It was met with enthusiasm for all of five minutes before the Council went back to Beck for the same old same old.

As the consultants say ZW is really “almost” zero because even with a mandatory curbside recycling combined with a facility that sorts the rest of the trash stream into recyclables, reusables, green waste/compost and all the other components there is still going to be a small amount- some say 5-10%, some say even less is practically achievable - that is going to be an unsortable disgusting mess, although with developing technologies it can and will approach zero.

And even if we burn that last tiny amount in an incinerator (an unnecessary and costly process usually sold to the public as a waste-to-energy plant such as H-Power in Honolulu) we’d have to do something with the “ashes”.

If the Council and County had contracted with a Zero Waste consultant we could now have a useful plan. To be fair the Beck report does include many of the recycling and sorting proposals and some on the Council have stated that having a “MERF”- the sorting facility- is their top solid waste priority. But it is still the old “coordinated” or piecemeal approach that was popular in the 80’s but has seen it’s day.

So if we did go with the Zero Waste concepts we’d still have a little bit left and the question is what to do with that.

We really have two choices on what to do with it- bury it or send it back to where it came from.

Which is why it’s unfathomable that our top two protectors of the environment in Hawai`i are condemning the smartest and most sustainable plan for that last little bit – ship it out.

According to an article in Monday’s Honolulu Advertiser Director of the Hawai`i Sierra Club Jeff Mikulina apparently has it backward in saying "(s)hipping off trash is an absolute waste. There is this overarching environmental ethic about the trash that we produce. It's antithetical to ... taking care of our own to send our 'opala thousands of miles away. We have to deal with our problems here at home."

This argument ignores the one pertinent fact- 100% of the materials in our non-greenwaste and mined (such as gravel, sand or concrete materials, all of which is recyclable) waste stream originated elsewhere- most of it on the mainland.

Another tireless environmental defender Henry Curtis of Life of the Land apparently agrees saying in the article "(w)e have to support an intensive recycling program. If material has to be disposed of, Life of the Land strongly believes that it should be done in a way that minimizes greenhouse gas emissions. Exporting trash to a large and cheap Mainland landfill is not the answer."

Shipping it out is not an alternative to recycling and it’s a disingenuous straw man to argue such. As is the greenhouse gas argument. How much greenhouse gas is produced by the diesel trucks running back and forth to and over the current landfills Henry?

If the answer is not a cheap Mainland landfill is it a more expensive and energy wasteful bunch of local ones?

The article notes “(o)thers say that the exporting of trash to another state absolves citizens of the responsibility for cleaning up after themselves.”

Exactly what citizen responsibility is that? To import pre-disposal-stage waste and then dig a hole to throw it in? Does that sound responsible much less sustainable?

Government already wipes our figurative butts for us already- we’re just arguing about how many sheets of toilet paper it’s going to take.

The bigger bugaboo for the politicians and taxpayers has rightly or wrongly been cost. And that’s where shipping whatever isn’t usable to a central location –even if it’s to await the day when it has value if that’s what Mikulina is suggesting- is certainly a more economically viable alternative than paying the amount we pay now all else being equal. And if it’s efficiently coordinated statewide it is more environmentally sustainable and less damaging too.

The Article states that “(t)he plan assumes the cost to ship trash to the mainland will be between $70 and $75 per ton”, which is about the current “tipping fee” on Kaua`i- the amount paid to dump stuff at the dump. But that figure is widely admitted to be a low-end cost underestimate used for many years by our befuddled Pubic Works Department to charge commercial haulers.

Most estimates for actual costs are well over a hundred- $135 has recently been used in council discussions. And those estimates don’t count the costs of transport to the landfill site even before the price of oil went through the roof, nor things like the capital improvement costs to site, construct, monitor and close a new landfill (and keep an eye on it for the required 30 years after closing), estimated at $35-50 million or more just to open it... which also doesn’t include things like the recent half-a-million-dollar bribe for Kekaha to not complain about the current dump being there.

Oh and by the way, despite repeated requests and promises by the Council and administrations ever since Ray Chuan’s day the new Beck report does not evaluate the “shipping it out” option and it’s dismissed as unviable without any detailed examination.

The myriad hidden costs of landfilling aside, what Mikulina, Curtis and Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura have always tried do is argue is that shipping it back would be done in lieu of a zero-waste plan- or even the “good-enough” Beck approach- with no recycling, no diversion and no other plan other than bringing it to the docks and waving bye-bye.

It has been impossible to have a rational discussion of the matter because of these kinds of disingenuous arguments for many years, where they go back and forth between the straw men of the cost and responsibility that they created out of whole cloth.

The oddest thing is that even in Honolulu shipping it back is seen as a “temporary solution” although no one has ever addressed why that is. Is it because their whole system is unsustainable to begin with or something to do with the concept? We don’t know because no one will say but wonder if it could be because there are thousands of government jobs at stake in dealing with the trash inefficiently in burning and burying it after it’s picked up?

Mikulina, Curtis and Yukimura would all agree that our consumerist mainland-style lifestyle through the use of the products physically delivered here is essentially unsustainable all by itself. Yet those goods comprise most of what we need to “do something with” after we’ve taken out what we can use and re-use and they came from across the ocean in the first place.

If we’re thinking about sustainability how is it sustainable to keep importing and burying our “stuff” when we’re done with it? To take care of the rear end by burying it is the height of irresponsibility because if the front end is dealt with sustainably there would be no rear end to deal with.

To use the analogy we seem to rely upon way too often in “Ready-Fire-Aim” Hawai`i and Kaua`i, it’s the old story about people too busy taking the bodies out of the river- and in this case burying them- to go upstream and try to stop whomever is throwing the bodies in.

We’d certainly welcome hearing how keeping it here is more “responsible” or even “lower cost” (when all cost factors are factored in) then sending it back but all we’ve ever heard is skewed numbers and vague generalities- and that’s been going on for at least 20 years here on Kaua`i.

We’re talking the last remains of the day- that gook or even the ashes after burning it- and what we’re going to do with it. Sweep it under the rug or ship it back where it came from are the choices. From that perspective the “responsible” option should be clear.


Anonymous said...

Hard to understand why a "green" would want to spend energy to haul useless trash thousands of miles to dump it in a landfill. If you can't see the waste in that exercise, there's no way to pry your eyes open.

Then there is the issue of cost. Yes, large scale, well run mainland landfills are cheaper. As long as they aren't full. If you look into the situation re these huge Oregon landfills, they talk about 20-30 year capacity. However, if you keep googling, there are literally dozens of cities right where Kauai is. If a number of them start shipping, these places will be full in no time. If they can't be replaced, what do we do then?

Your analysis re zero waste is also flawed. Our waste stream has about 30% that would be very difficult to recycle economically. No reason to not recycle/re-use or just not create the trash in the first place, but selling zero waste as a solution is disingenuous. Even now our recycle programs cost on the order of $250/ton though that number is inflated because the contract holder has no incentive to actually accomplish anything.

We do need a landfill for hurricane emergencies as well. Without a landfill, we could be in deep deep trouble.

Couldn't agree more that RWBecks study is poor quality. It smelled like a justification for the pre-determined Baptiste preference (incinerator) from the get go. They simply screened out aerobic composting because "it has issues in the community", ignoring that there are just as many issues with an incinerator. Sure does make it easy to win if you don't let the strongest competitors into the game.

This WTE plan has been being cooked up by the G&R bunch and their friends in the commercial garbage hauling biz from the mid/late 90's. It helps when you have a family member on council protecting your interests..lobbying the state for bonds for a private landfill etc.

There is no reason a local landfill would cost $135/ton. My guess is that figure is also grossly inflated to make a WTE look better in comparison. Of course delaying the decision until land prices were way up hasn't helped. If we let G&R's sugar operations die the death they deserve, my guess is they could get far more reasonable re land cost.

While blaming the relatively incompetent County staff may be fun for Chuan et al, the root of this problem has been lack of leadership at the top beginning with the Yukimura admin continuing to today. Had we sited a landfill on one of the many acceptable sites in 1998, we'd have 25-30 years to implement a zero waste approach extending landfill life for a century. Instead, each admin just kicked the can down the road out of fear of losing votes from some area. Didn't help that the private garbage haulers did everything they could to derail any plan that might have impacted their own cash cow.

Anonymous said...

Excellent comment to another fine local affair post. ZWK has moved along the discussion well. The count is playing catch up and hired the 'pro's' to sell a few 'novel ideas'. the WTE proposal is years away and not getting cheaper(even with the rise of fuel costs) to build. the MaterialRecoveryFacility has grown legs and will advance the curbside recycling efforts. imagine greenwaste being collected every other week with recycled goods getting the royal treatment as well. it won't come cheap or easy but hopefully it will come. the landfill siting comittee is tasked w/the enviable job of locating a central facility that may serve many purposes9landfil, MRF,greenwaste composting and recycling, and storing household haz mat. don't look for objectivity from RW BECK, they will recommend anything as long as they can do the followup study for 285K$. These guys rack it in. should be an election year bonanza rummaging through this garbage pile.

Anonymous said...

RW Beck is making a fortune off of Kauai. They did the crappy analysis for the county to fight KIUC. Then turned around and did a big study for KIUC (got Alton Miyamoto pushed out in the process judging from the way old GG wigged out when Alton admitted he hired RWB). Now this study.

Good grief. We don't need another landfill siting committee. The last expensive study identified 6-8 good sites. Why study it again except BB is scared ---less to actually make a decision and put the thing up Maalo road near the new power plant. this is just money for political cover.

Anonymous said...

"So if we did go with the Zero Waste concepts we’d still have a little bit left"
You are off the mark on this one Andy. Even with aggressive recycling the best communities in the country sill dispose 50% of the total waste stream. You have to look at municipal solid waste and the commercial stream. The revised plan presented to Council includes automated curbside recycling of greenwaste and mixed recyclables, a MRF, and a composting facility that will eventually take bio-solids and food waste. It recommends pay as you throw provisions after curbside recycling begins. The cost currently at $35 dollars a month per household rises to $85 in five years. Ask Glen if the County should commit to that? Going green is not free.

Anonymous said...

Glen is one of Andy's goofs that demands services at the same time he demands tax cuts.

Sure there's fat in the system but the cognitive dissonance of the above is pretty humorous.

Andy Parx said...

You’re right about the free lunch crowd that wants lower taxes and more services anonymous 11:08. I’m for higher taxes to pay for what we want and need- and want to see those who cause the need for non-resident services pay those higher taxes...which is why the new tax reform proposal- assuming it’s based on the task forces work a few years back- is a rip-off.

I was never a proponent of even fan of the Ohana Charter amendment and often disagree with Glenn’s conclusions and opinions but know he does his homework unlike the anonymous troll who criticizes the factuality of Glenn’s documentation and substitutes a bunch of irrelevant gobbledygook in his comments.