Hilo sort station diversion rate falls short of promises


HILO — County crews were able to divert only 5.6 percent of the 12,524 tons of garbage brought to the sort station during its first eight months of operation, a far cry from the up to 40 percent diversion rate originally anticipated by county officials.

But Solid Waste Director Greg Goodale told West Hawaii Today on Thursday that his office never anticipated a diversion rate as high as 40 percent, a figure he said contractors used when pushing for a mechanized waste removal process.

“The 40 percent, that was given to us by a consultant if it was a fully mechanized facility,” Goodale said. “Our original estimate was upwards of 10 percent.”

The county last year added four new positions to sort garbage at the $9.3 million sort station after the facility sat vacant since its 2010 construction. The diverted garbage, 706 tons between May and December, was picked up by the county’s recycling contractor, thus extending the life of the Hilo landfill.

Goodale anticipates the sort station’s track record to improve as the employees get more practiced at their jobs.

The county uses the sort station to remove paper, organic waste and green waste from garbage before it goes to the landfill. Trash is dumped on the plant floor and workers operating a mini-excavator and loaders sort the recyclables by hand before reloading the truck for the landfill.

Goodale said the operation is well worth the expense. He couldn’t immediately estimate the cost of the project.

“We’re seeing our diversion rates increasing due to the use of the facility,” Goodale said. “It’s making a difference.”

The Hilo landfill has an estimated four to five years remaining using a “sliverfill” technique currently in place that piles the sides higher. Goodale said extending the sliverfill to the north slope of the landfill could extend it even longer. The county would need additional permits for that, he said.

Department of Environmental Management officials at a County Council meeting last January estimated the process would cut anywhere from 5 percent to as much as 40 percent from the volume of garbage going to the Hilo landfill. At the time, the council was discussing a resolution by former Council Chairman Dominic Yagong to allow the private sector to bid on a full-scale materials recovery facility there, instead of using county employees to separate the garbage by hand.

The companies were pitching a materials recovery facility, known as “murf” for its acronym MRF, which they say creates a more efficient mechanized system with no upfront money from the county. Pacific Waste Inc. and BioEnergy Hawaii LLC, a group that includes former Hawaii County Mayor Dante Carpenter, now chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, in particular had expressed interest in taking over the project, offering to invest $5 million upfront to outfit the building with the needed equipment.

Goodale said the county doesn’t plan a fully mechanized MRF any time soon, but it will, as time goes on, enlarge its current process.

“The plan is to incorporate additional mechanisms into the system and divert more,” he said.