LETTER: Your Analysis Debunking Waste-to-Energy is Spot On

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Mahalo to [Big Island Now’s] Hunter Bishop for initiating a discussion about the myths driving Mayor Kenoi’s plan to incinerate our valuable resources.

[See full story here: Six Myths About County’s Waste Incineration Plan]

Here’s my contribution. Since there are many more, others will have to pick-up where I left off.

MYTH: Waste to Energy is a renewable technology that aligns with Hawaii’s sustainability goals.


REALITY: The practice rewards wastefulness and the preferred fuel—plastic— is derived from oil which is a finite, non-renewable resource. Of the approximately 95,000 tons of waste the county is promising the winner of the current bid, at least 75% is recyclable. This estimate includes organics that can be made into compost or animal feed. Our island imports soil amendments and animal feed on a daily basis. How does burning this valuable resource make us more sustainable?

MYTH: EVERYTHING recyclable will be removed from the waste stream prior to incineration.

REALITY: Of the three companies that remain on the county’s shortlist, Green Conversion Systems most boldly makes this claim. Call the company. Talk to their CEO. He estimates their downstream recycling efforts will reduce the approximately 95,000 tons the county is promising by 25%. In fact, at least 75% of what they receive will be reusable or recyclable. . . an estimate that includes organics which can be made into compost or animal feed. The “EVERYTHING” that GCS touts is actually EVERYTHING they feel like recycling, as long as it is convenient and profitable, with CGS the sole arbiter of those criteria over the life of the contract. There is absolutely no guarantee that these materials will be captured or recycled to any (let alone the fullest) extent and there is no guarantee that county recycling programs will continue. Even if we believe Mayor Kenoi when he promises that his incinerator will not impact existing county recycling efforts, he will leave office in two years and the next administration can do whatever it likes with the programs and competing demand for incineration fuel he left behind.


MYTH: Mayor Kenoi’s commitment to recycling is unquestionable.

REALITY: Try ask him why he refused to sign the diversion credit contracts that were sent to his desk by the Department of Environmental Management earlier this year. For at least a decade, the county has offered a credit to recyclers diverting paper, plastic and glass from the waste stream. They get paid a little something from DEM for accepting these items from the public which allows them to, in turn, pay the public a little something for bringing them in. This is the primary strategy for getting above the low 37% recycling rate we now have and Kenoi refused to sign these contracts which were otherwise complete.

(Be ready for this highly questionable excuse: Kenoi claims he did it because he can’t justify the per ton amounts promised in the contract, but the county knows how much it pays to landfill and they can, just as they have done in the past, use those figures to generate a “diversion” credit. The average cost Kenoi quoted in his February 4th presentation to the County Council was $125/ton for landfilling. Anything less than that would promote recycling AND save the taxpayers money; the amounts offered in the diversion credit RFP were below $125/ton.)


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