Council digs on compost


Hawaii County is considering putting those unwanted peas and carrots to good use.

The County Council’s Finance Committee gave its support Tuesday to a proposal that would add composting to its green waste operation, currently limited to recycling yard clippings for mulch.

The issue was one of several waste-related measures the committee addressed at the meeting in Hilo.

The committee, with all nine council members present, also voted in support of staff proposals to issue $4 million in bonds for a gas collection and control system at the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill and borrow another $12 million to address capacity issues at the Kealakehe wastewater plant.

Each project needs approval by the full council outside of the committee process.

A 2009 study said that compostable material, including food waste and some papers and plastics, makes up 54 percent, or 114,000 tons, of garbage at the county’s landfills.

About 20 percent of that, or 22,800 tons, could be removed through composting, said Dora Beck, acting director of the Environmental Management Department.

The compost, managed by a contractor, would be available for use by Big Island residents at the South Hilo and West Hawaii landfills, though how much it would cost still needs to be determined.

Greg Goodale, county solid waste division chief, said mulch would still be free but residents should expect to pay for compost.

The council passed a similar resolution in 2011 but that stipulated contractors couldn’t charge the county more than $70 per ton. No responding bidders were able to get below that figure.

This time, staff left out any reference to cost, leaving that to be determined during bidding.

Beck said she hopes to have a composting operation in place by January 2014 if given final approval by the council.

Scraps and other compostable materials would have to be taken to the landfills.

Yard waste could still be taken to the Kealakehe transfer station for mulch.

How much the program would expand the life of the landfills remains unclear.

The county wants to award a 10-year contract for the composting operation, and plans to issue a request for proposals.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is requiring the county to have a gas collection and control system in place by Dec. 17. Installation would be done by Waste Management Inc., which operates the landfill. Construction would begin in the second quarter of the year.

The gas would be burned.

It’s unclear if there would be enough gas to justify using it to generate electricity.

Beck said she would encourage the company to include the potential for power generation in its design after several council members said they didn’t want to miss an opportunity.

“I’d like to see us be proactive on this type of thing,” said Councilwoman Brenda Ford.

At the Kealakehe wastewater plant, sludge has accumulated, causing its capacity to be reduced by approximately 50 percent.

The county would spend $12 million through the state’s revolving loan program to remove the sludge and upgrade its aeration process.