A county commission drafts ordinance aiming to ban recyclables at West Hawai‘i landfill

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Hawai‘i County’s Environmental Management Commission is developing an ordinance that aims to prohibit the amount of recyclable materials ending up in the island’s only working landfill.

During a commission meeting on July 26, Ramzi Mansour, Hawai’i County Director of Environmental Management, told commissioners the West Hawai‘i Sanitary Landfill only has 20 to 25 years left before it reaches capacity.

With the Hilo Landfill permanently closed in 2020, the clock is ticking for the island’s sole dump. Commission chairperson Georjean Adams said it’s a good time to start looking into solutions.

Adams said the proposed ordinance is in its early stages and is more about getting the conversation started about how to prevent unnecessary, or recyclable items — green waste, metals, plastics, paper, paperboard and glass — from ending up in the rubbish dump, located off Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway in Waikōloa.

“Trying to site a new landfill is close to impossible,” Adams said. “So what are we going to do? So I was looking around, and the commission agreed, to look deeply into the idea of diverting the recyclables out and at least slow the filling up of the landfill.”

The proposed ordinance refers to the 2019 Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan that commits the county to “divert, as much as feasible, commercial and municipal solid waste, including but not limited to green waste, metals, plastics, paper, paperboard, and glass to help achieve goals related to climate resiliency, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and zero waste.”


It states: “Persons identified by department rule are prohibited from intentionally disposing of, or causing to be disposed of, designated recyclable wastes in Hawai’i County landfill(s). “

With the ordinance, the department will identify categories of people who are designated recyclable waste generators, or those who have reasonable access to collection locations and/or services at a price that is less than the cost of solid waste disposal.

Under the measure, those with access to recycling will be required to do so. This includes large businesses, multifamily subdivisions, county facilities, schools, nonprofits, along with small businesses and residents who have access to transfer stations and/or curbside recyclables.

“The idea with the proposal is to require it. At least, start with the big guys who are generating a fair volume,” Adams said. “Not every commercial operation recycles.”

The ordinance puts pressure on larger companies and organizations to start implementing recycling best practices.


The document states: “The department shall by rule require reporting from large commercial and governmental organizations on an annual basis to document their waste reduction and/or landfill diversion programs, including total volume waste and percent of each designated recyclable waste generated and methods they employed to achieve waste reduction from the landfill.”

It would also allow for there to be a fee for a licensed small business or nonprofit to use the transfer station for the purpose of recycling and creating a new method to record diversion data and documentation.

Under the draft, it also aims to lessen the burden on those who can’t afford to recycle or “people who have undue hardship,” by allowing an application for undue hardship be made to the director.

The ordinance also gives some leeway for the occasional disposal of recyclable waste if the waste “generator can show it maintains an active program of education and makes collection services available for those who contribute to their trash,” and exempts subsets of designated recyclables that are not suitable for recycling such as hazardous material.

Kristine Kubat, president of the board of nonprofit Recycle Hawai’i, said the organization agrees with the intent of the ordinance but is more concerned with zero waste.


“We’re never going to get to zero but when we pursue zero waste it puts us on the path towards zero waste production,” she said.

While the draft ordinance seems to be driven by landfill capacity, Kubat said that is not the number one concern for the nonprofit.

“We do want to make sure everything that can be recycled is being recycled, but when it comes to plastic, recycling is not a solution so we don’t want to create policy or infrastructure that promotes that false solution,” she said.

She would prefer to see a single-use plastic ban in place first.

“There’s a lot more to talk about and discuss,” Kubat said. “This ordinance is a downstream solution, and we’re looking for upstream solutions.”

Adams said that’s what the commission plans to do. The ordinance is in its drafting phases and has yet to be considered to be sent over the the council for review and the council would be in charge of drafting a similar ordinance.

“Once we send something, assuming we do, they’ll be the ones drafting it. The ordinance may go nowhere or may get sponsorship by one of more council members and then we’ll be part of the process of public outreach,” she said.

The next Environmental Management Commission meeting is Sept. 27, and will take public comments on their agenda items. To review the drafted ordinance, follow this link.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the correct location of the West Hawai‘i Sanitary Landfill.

Megan Moseley
Megan Moseley is a full-time journalist for Pacific Media Group. Her experience ranges from long and short-form reporting to print, digital, radio and television news coverage. In Hawaiʻi, she's worked for local media outlets and has covered a wide range of topics including local and state politics, environmental affairs, Native Hawaiian issues, travel, tourism and education. She covers the West for Restaurant Hospitality.

She's a 2010 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Magazine Journalism and specializations in Geology and History. She's currently working on her master's degree from New York University in journalism and is focused on conflict resolution and peace practices in indigenous cultures in the Pacific.

Megan can be reached at [email protected].
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