HILO — Big changes coming to Hawaii County’s green waste program could mean higher costs for those using commercial landscapers and a more hands-on approach for residents getting free mulch from the Kealakehe transfer station.
Starting Jan. 1, all businesses seeking to dump green waste at any county facility will have to pay an annual fee for a solid waste permit. Preliminary plans are to implement tipping fees April 1.
The county is moving its West Hawaii green waste processing operation from the Kealakehe site to the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill at Puuanahulu. Because of an outcry from residents and small commercial operators when the county last attempted this relocation, the Department of Environmental Management will continue to allow residents and small commercial operators to dump green waste at the transfer station.
Free mulch will continue to be available at the Kealakehe site, but it must be loaded with pitchforks, rather than mechanical or assisted loading. Free mulch with assisted loading will be available at the landfill, however.
County Recycling Coordinator Linda Peters said she’s seen a mix of people use the motorized loader or simply drive up and pitchfork a load of mulch into their vehicles. Obviously, she said, those seeking large loads of mulch would be better off going to the landfill for it.
“There won’t be a loader (at Kealakehe), but there will be piles of mulch so people can self-load,” Peters said, acknowledging that, “It’s going to be a change for people and change is always hard.”
In order to continue providing free mulch at Kealakehe, the county plans to truck the green waste up to the landfill, process it, then truck the resulting mulch back down to Kealakehe, an approximately 60-mile round trip.
Residents will be able to dump their own green waste for free. Commercial operators taking green waste to Kealakehe will be charged $33.15 for 3 cubic yards — about a pickup bed’s worth. Loads of up to 6 cubic yards will cost $62.40 to dump. Bigger loads must be taken to Puuanahulu, where operators will be charged $21.25 per ton.
“It’s been in the plans for a long time,” Dora Beck, acting DEM director, recently told the Environmental Management Commission. “We’re easing it in to give commercial folks time to do what they need to do.”
Landscaping companies fear they will have no choice but to pass the additional costs on to their customers.
“Obviously, prices are going to have to go up,” said Mike Gronwall, owner of Gronwall Gardening & Irrigation, a 15-year-old Keauhou company.
Michael McCormack of Hawaiian Tiger Tree Services, who’s operated for 15 years in Kona, said the new system will add to fuel costs, traffic congestion and danger on West Hawaii roads.
“It’s a total waste of energy. Eighty-five to 90 percent of the green waste is generated in Kona,” McCormack said. “It’s been working fine the way it is.”
The county is moving the green waste processing center to a new 10-acre, lined West Hawaii Organics Facility adjacent to the landfill. Future plans include expanding the operation to process other organic waste, with the hope of diverting more than half the total waste from the landfills.
Charging tipping fees for green waste will have a way of leveling the playing field and allowing private companies to get into the business, said Matt Pearson, Hawaii Island manager for Big Island EKO Systems, a company that’s had the county green waste contract since 2005, but will lose it Dec. 31 to Oahu-based Hawaiian Earth Products.
Pearson pointed to companies doing business on Maui, where tipping fees are in place. Without tipping fees, taxpayers are subsidizing the landscaping companies and their customers, he said.
“It fosters competition, and it takes the burden off taxpayers,” Pearson said.
Peters agrees. She said she hopes a Kona-area business would see the value in establishing a mulch processing operation.
“Why are the taxpayers paying for Fairmont Orchid to have their landscaping done?” she asked.