By Wendy Osher
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa has clarified his plans for the future of recycling amid “confusion and concern” regarding the status of county-funded residential drop-box recycling sites.
In a press release issued on Thursday afternoon, the mayor said there will be no changes to the current level of service “until further analysis can be done.”
This comes after an interview with Maui Now last week in which he confirmed his proposed plan to close the county recycling centers and allow contracts to lapse.
At the time, he noted that the county currently pays three-quarters of a million dollars to have companies do recycling, while competing against the private sector. He suggested that taxpayer dollars could be spent elsewhere.
Two days later in the March 27 edition of the Maui News, the publication reported confirmation of the Mayor’s plans to “eliminate around $700,000 in funding from the 2013-14 budget for recycling drop boxes at half of the county’s eight funded recycling centers on Maui.”
In yesterday’s press release, the Mayor stated otherwise, saying, “It’s important to note that the budget proposal that was sent to the council contains the same amount of funds for recycling as we had in there this year, not a penny less.”
“The residential drop box program will continue, although at some point the locations of the bins may change,” Arakawa continued. “We’ve heard from the public that they are passionate about recycling, and while I am an avid recycler myself, the public needs to understand exactly how much it costs to haul, process and transport the materials off-island.”
The mayor also provided some detail of the costs associated with the county recycling facilities.
“According to Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza, it costs the county 15 times as much to recycle items as it does to landfill them, which comes as a shock to many. Currently, it costs us more than $300 a ton per recyclable to move the material from the drop box bins to a processor and process the materials; it costs the processor even more to then ship it to a recycler in Asia or on the mainland.”
The mayor said he is looking for a move away from county-subsidized residential drop box operations toward reliance on private vendors for recycling.
“There will be no disruption to the public’s ability to recycle household items, as we work on transitioning the County out of the recycling business so that the private sector can step in,” Arakawa said.
The mayor attributed part of the confusion to flyers he said were circulated at a residential recycling drop-off centers recently by employees of a private vendor that the county pays to haul residential recyclables for processing.
“These flyers have provided only partial information, and ensuing rumors have spawned a great deal of misinformation,” Arakawa said. A copy of one flyer in circulation has been included for reference.
“While we plan to work with vendors to privatize this service, it will take some time for a transition to take place. In the meantime, we will make sure the public can still recycle at the drop boxes as they always have,” he said.
Sherri Pell, manager of Aloha Recycling located on Amala Place in Kahului, said it appears as though the mayor changed his mind following public opposition.
“The flyer did its purpose because it got the community to respond,” Pell said in a phone interview this morning.
Although she said she was happy at the outcome, Pell said she was “quite annoyed though that he’s putting the blame on us.”
She claims the biggest problem is the cost of the processing contract, saying the bid was too high. Pell said Aloha Recycling gets an estimated $65,000 a year for the hauling contract, and pays the county $15,000 a month to accommodate HI-5 recycling.
The mayor said recycling will continue to be “an important component in the county’s overall sustainability strategy” as it moves closer to being able to turn trash into energy.
“We will do our best to serve the needs and wishes of the community in a fiscally responsible manner,” he said.
During the proposed transition, Arakawa asked the public for help in keeping costs down by cutting down on the amount of material that needs to be recycled, reducing consumption, and reusing items whenever possible.
“These are cheap and efficient ways to extend the life of our landfills. We live in a disposable society, and it’s time we all take a harsh look inside the bin to see how much it really costs taxpayers to deal with the things they don’t want anymore.”