Tuesday | September 27, 2016
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Too much trash, or not enough


Stephens Media Hawaii

The Environmental Management Department is getting lots of pitches for waste-to-energy technologies, Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd told Environmental Management Commissioners Wednesday morning.

The problem is, she added, most of those technologies aren’t a good fit for Hawaii County.

“They do not have a facility anywhere in the world processing municipal solid waste,” Leithead Todd said.

Municipal solid waste has a variety of materials, something a plant processing macadamia nut shells or corn cobs just doesn’t have to deal with, she added. Many of the plant representatives reaching out to Hawaii County about waste-to-energy proposals are also operating on a much smaller scale than Hawaii County would.

“I don’t want to be on the hook, committed to something that hasn’t been done somewhere else,” she said. “We don’t have the luxury of being the first.”

On the other hand, Hawaii County’s waste stream isn’t big enough to attract large waste-to-energy facilities, Leithead Todd said. She said right now, with the limitations the previous County Council placed in the charter specifying to which landfill rubbish may be hauled, she may not have the flexibility to write a request for proposals that would attract even as many bids as Maui County received.

The council passed the measure in response to public backlash against proposals to truck rubbish from Hilo to the Puuanahulu landfill. When looking at a possible waste-to-energy plant, the county may need more rubbish than East Hawaii generates, even if the facility is located over there.

“I might want to flow (rubbish) to Hilo,” Leithead Todd said. “I need to be able to reverse the flow.”

The county also needs to select a vendor who can provide enough storage of mixed materials to have several days’ worth of material to feed the waste-to-energy generator, in the event of a strike or natural disaster, she added.

Mayor Billy Kenoi has said he wants to have a solution to the county’s rubbish issues on the ground before he leaves office in 2016. Leithead Todd said a Hawaii County Council committee this month will consider a resolution seeking information on a wide variety of possible waste solution technologies. The director said she would bring that resolution, as well as the results of an earlier request for information, to the commission at a later meeting.

The director also touched on what impact more diversion of compostable and recyclable materials could eventually have. In Sweden, for example, the population has gotten so good at sorting its waste, the country is importing waste for its waste-to-energy facilities from France and Italy.

“If you really want to do more diversion, (if that is the goal), we need to allow or provide a way” to separate items at the source, Leithead Todd said.

Educating the public is also a key to improving diversion, she said. She recalled how, during her childhood, people burned paper in their backyards and dumped garbage on the ground wherever they felt like it. Education has cut back on those behaviors, she said.

Lack of education, or a lack of ownership in the idea that it is everyone’s responsibility to keep the island clean, may have played a role in incidents around the island Monday in which people left their garbage outside closed transfer stations, Leithead Todd said.

“People dumped so much rubbish at some transfer stations we couldn’t close the gates,” she said. “It taught me we’ve got a ways to go.”

Leithead Todd stood on the road entering the South Hilo Landfill and stopped vehicles from coming in on Monday.

“By and large, people were understanding,” she said.

Leithead Todd also gave the commissioners an update on the Kealakehe Waste Water Treatment Plant and the issues with treating biosolids there. She said she toured Parker Ranch’s small waste water treatment plant and was particularly interested in the low-cost method the ranch is using to deal with the biosolids. Basically, the treatment plant puts the solids into a container that resembles a large bean bag, rests the bag on an incline an allows the water to leach from the solids into the treatment plant. Eventually, only dried solids are left. Those can be taken to a landfill, Leithead Todd said, or if the solids show no heavy metals present, the ranch may be able to apply for a Department of Health Permit to spread the solids on the ground.

Parker Ranch’s system, at about 65,000 gallons of waste water per day, is significantly smaller than the Kealakehe Waste Water Treatment Plant, which processes about 2 million gallons per day, Leithead Todd said. Still, there may be a way to scale the technology the ranch is using for the larger county facility.

Email Erin Miller at emiller@westhawaiitoday.com.


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