If, as Jeff Stark said, "What's good for the environment is good for the economy," why does solid waste management present such a challenge?
Stark, the chair of the Public Education Committee for the Maui Recycling Group, was one of four panelists at the recent "Talkin' Trash" educational forum at the University of Hawai'i Maui College on Wednesday, Sept. 11, who gathered to discuss solid waste solutions for Maui County.
In addition to Stark, the panel included Timonie Hood, the Environmental Protection Agency's Zero Waste & Green Building coordinator for Region 9 (Pacific Southwest), Sustainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM) Executive Director Dr. Jennifer Chirico and Kyle Ginoza, director of Environmental Management for Maui County.
Panelists Kyle Ginoza and Jennifer Chirico listen intently to Jeff Stark’s rebuttal of Maui County’s 20-year plan for partnering with Anageria Services Inc.
The first of a two-part event, "Talkin' Trash" was hosted by the Sierra Club Maui Group (SCMG), Maui Recycling Group (MRG) and SLIM.
With approximately 100 interested community members in attendance, moderator Kainoa Horcajo, president of the Maui Recycling Group, introduced the first speaker. Hood addressed the audience via Skype from Oregon.
Hood spoke of the federal agency's role in sharing information about strategies and successes with the general public, encouraging attendees to check out the EPA's Website (www.epa.gov/os) for more information on solid waste. Hood praised Hawai'i for taking up important initiatives, such as advocating for smoke-free beaches, implementing the H-5 Bottle Bill and Hawai'i Islands creation of Reuse Shelters.
As the name implies, a reuse shelter aggregates all forms of solid waste into one central clearing house. It accepts recycling, hazardous materials (hazmats), green waste, food waste, construction and demolition debris (some reusable), unwanted and broken appliances, and more, giving community members a one-stop, centralized location for pick up and drop off.
The County of Maui's efforts, such as banning the use of plastic bags at retail checkout counters in January 2011, and the "3 Can Plan" recycling effort that began in July 2012 in Maui Meadows, were also praised by Hood.
The "3 Can Plan" provides a brown bin for rubbish, which is picked up once a week, and a green bin for green waste and a blue bin for mixed recyclables (glass, aluminum, paper and plastic), which are picked up every two weeks.
Hood said 42 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are a by-product of material goods and food waste. Hood pointed out that the U.S. creates 250 million tons of solid waste per year--an average of 4.4 pounds of trash, per person, per day--of which only 34.7 percent is recycled. Over 160 million tons of solid waste enters our landfills each year.
Dr. Chirico, a solid waste management expert, also spoke about the success of the "3 Can Plan" in such large municipalities such as San Francisco. She said if we don't separate recyclables at the source, when the mixed trash gets to the landfill for sorting, many of the would-be recyclables are deemed contaminated and cannot be reused.
Dr. Chirico provided a startling fact: "On Maui, we generate 9 pounds of waste per person, per day--over twice the national average--largely due to tourism. They come here, they buy things, the goods often leave, but the packaging stays here."
That statistic came as a shock to many audience members and provided additional context for the urgency of the situation.
During her presentation, Dr. Chirico provided an overview of current waste to energy paradigms. You can bury it, burn it, mine existing deposits for methane and/or employ anaerobic bio-digesters to produce liquid natural gas (LNG), or make refuse-derived fuel (RDF) and then burn that as a replacement for coal, she said.
But Dr. Chirico said none of these current strategies are truly optimal.
"We also need to change behavioral norms and ideas about dumping," she said, pointing to the practice of leaving broken appliances and abandoned cars alongside stretches of our scenic roadways.
Dr. Chirico also spoke about the need to change our vocabulary and eliminate the word "waste" and instead use the word "resource."
Stark echoed her sentiments, pointing out that one man's trash is another man's treasure. He recounted some highly successful Maui recycling efforts, such as those made by Pacific Biodiesel and Maui EKO Compost. For example, the bumper sticker reading "Your French Fries Give Me Gas" indicates a diesel-powered vehicle running on recycled restaurant fryer grease produced by Pacific Biodiesel.
Using Dr. Chirico's new definition, by scooping up a "resource" everyone was throwing into the landfill, Pacific Biodiesel now has 13 refineries around the globe and was rated in the top 25 most influential companies in Hawai'i in the past 50 years.
The other trash-to-cash story Stark shared was how Maui EKO Compost saw gold in green waste and "bio-solids" (the sludge that remains after human excrement is treated at the sewage plant). By combining these two previously unwanted "resource" streams, Maui EKO Compost provides a value-added product. Their motto is "Turning dirt into soil."
Director Ginoza presented the audience with the county's reasons for adopting its latest strategy; implementing an integrated solid waste management plan partnership with Anageria Inc., a company that specialized in producing LNG and RDF. Ginoza said the primary concern of the county is the high cost of its recycling programs. In the current proposal, Anageria will finance and build the plant for free with no cost to the taxpayers or Maui County. Maui Electric Company (MECO) will burn the RDF and Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) will use it as a coal replacement in its Pu'unene plant.
So why wasn't their much rejoicing in the audience when it appeared that Maui's solid waste management prayers were about to be answered?
In his rebuttal to Director Ginoza's presentation, Stark pointed out some additional facts about the county's plan to partner with Anageria Services Inc.
"When you produce RDF, the jeopardy is passed on to the buyer--in this case, MECO and A&B."
There are real emission issues that result from burning of RDFs. Also, the market is tiny. If either A&B or MECO chose not to purchase the RDF, Anageria may not be able to sell their product.
There are also issues with a 20-year contract with Anageria, effectively locking the county onto a binding contract to produce so many tons of waste per year in order to generate a profit for Anageria. If the county falls short of this goal, it will cost us all, said Stark. This also removes the incentive to recycle, and could have real consequences for those already in the recycling business such as Pacific Biodiesel and EKO Compost, Stark added.
Stark repeatedly advocated for the county to adhere to the vetted Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan drafted in 2009, which calls for over 60 percent of all solid waste on Maui to be recycled.
Director Ginoza said only 22 percent of our solid waste is residential--the remaining 78 percent comes from the resort and construction industries, and Ginoza's office has no jurisdiction over construction and demolition waste.
Because the panelists only scratched the tip of the "wasteberg," as Dr. Chirico calls it, there will be more discussion during part two of the "Talkin' Trash" event, entitled "Anaerobic Discussion," which will be held on Oct. 22, on the UHMC campus. Presenters will include Arun Sharma, president of Anaergia Services Inc.; Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Director Ginoza; and other representatives from the county.
Dr. Chirico shared a manifesto from Martin Bourque, who spoke at the Berkeley Zero Waste Conference 2005, that can serve as a summary: "If a product can't be reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production."