County Looking to Expand Use of Green Waste

January 8, 2013, 7:07 PM HST (Updated January 8, 2013, 7:13 PM)
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The county is looking to expand its green waste program to provide an improved product for the public – but at a price.

The county currently accepts vegetation such as tree trimmings and weeds at both of its landfills, and also at its transfer stations. A contractor grinds the matter into mulch at the landfills which is provided to the public for free.

But the Department of Environment Management is looking to expand that program by having some of the mulch as well as food scraps and compostable plastic turned into compost, a fertilizer and soil amendment.

The County Council’s Finance Committee today gave initial approval to a resolution that, if approved by the full council, allows the department to seek bidders for a 10-year contract to create and sell the compost.

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Council approval is needed for any county contract with a term of greater than one year.

The department is looking to issue a request for proposals on the project later this year, said Greg Goodale, head of the department’s Solid Waste Division.

Goodale said that a 10-year contract is needed because making compost – which requires careful control of moisture and other factors, as well as management of the waste stream to obtain food scraps and other items – is much more capital-intensive than just creating mulch.

Although an undetermined amount of green waste will be diverted to the compost effort, the county will still provide mulch free to the public, Goodale said.

Councilwoman Brenda Ford several times questioned Goodale and Dora Beck, interim director of Environmental Management, on whether mulch would still be made available to the public for free. They indicated it would.

Having a quality compost product available locally is expected to be a boon to nurseries, resorts and others on the island which currently must ship the material in.

He said the price that the contractor will charge for the compost has not yet been determined.

In another matter involving solid waste, the committee also voted to endorse a bill to use $4 million in capital improvement funds to install a gas collection system at the county’s Pu`uanahulu landfill in North Kona.

The system must be installed by Dec. 17, 2013 to fulfill a mandate from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The system will reduce the amount of methane being emitted into the air from the landfill. According to the EPA, methane is about 20 times as potent of a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

The system will be installed by Waste Management Inc., the company which operates the West Hawaii landfill.

The first phase of the system will collect the methane and other gases emitted by decomposing garbage and burn it in a gas flare.

Goodale said if a sufficient amount of methane is collected by the holes drilled into the landfill’s cells, the county will consider using it to generate electricity or for other uses. But it remains to be seen whether there will be enough gas – and if it is pure enough – to make such a project viable.

“We won’t know until the system is up and running,” he said.

Several members of the Finance Committee today urged Goodale and Beck to pursue uses of the methane.

Puna Councilman Zendo Kern encouraged them to make sure there was wording in the contract to that effect.

Goodale told Big Island Now he is aware of a landfill in California that captures the methane and uses it to power its garbage trucks.

According to news reports, a landfill in Pennsylvania generates enough methane to power generators providing all of the power for a town with a population of nearly 2,000.

Goodale said an assessment done of both of the county’s landfills found that the collection process would not work at the older Hilo landfill, which, unlike the one at Pu`uanahulu, is not lined and allows the methane to escape in a variety of locations.

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