Friday, November 27, 2015         


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Modify, don't eliminate, city tipping fee subsidy

By Michael Owens and Jennifer Hudson


It wasn't long ago when Hawaii's roadsides and rural areas were marred by abandoned cars, household appliances and other trash. This led the Honolulu City Council in 1991 to create an incentive program that made recycling economically feasible.

The city's program has been a big success, and we've substantially cleaned up our island, but that progress is now at risk.

Recently signed into law, Bill 47 eliminates the incentive — a fiscally prudent discount on fees that recyclers pay to bring leftover, nonrecyclable material (recycling residue) to the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill. Unless a viable alternative is passed, recycling may suffer severe consequences.

This move makes neither economic nor environmental sense.

Recyclers currently divert from the landfill 80 percent of the material they receive, so until the enactment of Bill 47, the city's "tipping fee discount" for the nonrecyclable residue was proportionate-ly reduced by 80 percent. Schnitzer Steel Industries alone has diverted nearly 80,000 tons of recyclable waste annually from the landfill, the equivalent of filling up Aloha Stadium with trash each year.

Ten different organizations participate in the city's recycling incentive program, vastly reducing the amount of recyclable waste in the landfill, and dozens of small businesses and their employees depend on these recyclers to survive.

Recycling is a critical part of keeping our community clean and free of trash. The city's tipping fee discount, which has been reaffirmed and strengthened over time by past administrations, makes it possible for recyclers to operate in Hawaii.

Recycling is a volatile business, fluctuating year over year between gains and losses. The city's tipping fee discount helps provide the stability recyclers need to plan ahead, invest in equipment and technology, and create good jobs.

Fortunately, there's a viable alternative to the recycling-killing legislation. Council members Stanley Chang, Ann Kobayashi and Ernie Martin have advanced a compromise measure — Bill 36 — that would reduce the tipping fee discount by 20 percent and study its impact on recycling in Hawaii. The bill is scheduled for third and final reading tomorrow.

In order to send the right message to Mayor Peter Carlisle, we hope Bill 36 will receive the full support of the City Council. While we understand the city is searching for new ways to increase revenues, eliminating the tipping fee discount would be counterproductive.

Ultimately, the tipping fees that recyclers pay for the nonrecyclable residue they take to the landfill will not substantially increase over what is paid today. We will consider all our options to stay in business, including requiring that all metal be stripped of nonrecyclable materials or increasing the amount we pay for clean metal.

The only remaining alternative would be to close up shop. All of these options would mean less income for the people who work to keep our communities clean by collecting scrap metal, more material deposited in our rapidly filling landfill … and more trash strewn around our beautiful island.

Bill 47, an attempt to plug the gap in the city's budget, will in effect end the healthy level of recycling we currently enjoy in Hawaii.

We stand together in supporting Bill 36, a viable alternative that will help the city keep recycling alive while gaining a better understanding of the costs of the total de-incentivization just enacted.


Michael Cunningham is with Leeward Auto Recycling Inc., Michael Owens is with Intrade Corp. and Jennifer Hudson is with Schnitzer Steel Industries.

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