Morning walks in his Kalihi neighborhood used to bring retiree Juanito Martin great joy, but it hasn’t been the same since the city changed its bulky item pickup program, forcing him to dodge a growing mountain of garbage during his strolls.
“I look at this every morning. Today I go, ‘Oh no, this the worst one. It stinks,’” Martin said as he stood in front of the 25-by-3-foot garbage pile lining the sidewalk in front of Kalihi Waena Elementary School near his home. “Sometimes I have to move da kine before I go. I worry for the school kids.”
Martin is just one of many Honolulu residents who are piling on the complaints about the city’s new bulky item pickup program. The pilot began June 3, but it was in late April that the city sent more than 70,000 single- family homes and multiunit residential buildings mailers informing them of the new procedures.
As part of the pilot, which is slated to run through the end of January, the city has shifted single-family and multifamily residents from Foster Village to Hawaii Kai, including Waikiki, from monthly scheduled bulky item collection to an appointment-based program.
Pickups must be scheduled at opala.org or by calling the city Department of Environmental Services at 768-3200. Single-family homes are limited to five bulky items per time, while multiunit residential buildings may schedule up to 20 bulky items. The city currently requires multiunit residential buildings to consolidate bulky item collection appointments for their tenants and store these items on-site, in holding areas, between collection appointments. But come August the city plans to change its multiunit procedures by allowing tenants to make their own appointments instead of requiring them to go through their property owners, resident managers and association of apartment owners.
Timothy Houghton, deputy director of the city Environmental Services Department, said so far feedback has been positive from those making appointments. But reaction has not been as positive from those who live in areas that are still having problems with illegal dumping, Houghton said.
“In the past we just spent three to four days or more sweeping through every street and picking up everything in a sector, from properly set-out items to those that were illegally dumped,” Houghton said. “We’re trying to change bad behavior, so our crews are not canvassing every street and lane looking for material. Through a deliberate process of feedback and follow-up, the department is hoping to change the illegal behavior associated with bulky item pickups, whether that is being done unknowingly or purposefully.”
The pilot has reduced the amount of bulky material put out for collection as the amount of material scheduled for collection is limited to appointments, he said.
“We continue to urge residents in need of disposing bulky items to consider taking the items to a transfer station or convenience center, or perhaps work with a company that can reuse the items,” Houghton said.
When city crews encounter illegal dumping or note that items left for an appointment exceed the maximum limits, they tag the items with green stickers ordering those who left the items to retrieve them. Houghton said the city spent just over $2,000 on the stickers.
The city placed 2,800 stickers on illegally dumped items last month but issued only 10 warnings, he said.
“The first month of the pilot was geared on education. While we continue to educate, going forward, repeat offenders will be subject to (warnings) and (fines),” Houghton said.
But some critics want the city to rethink the pilot, which they claim is creating eyesores, sidewalk impediments and hygiene and safety issues all over town. Not to mention, penalizing the wrong people.
Tour bus driver Robert Gatewood said his family had to move their mailbox because the mailman refused to wade through the filth to deliver their mail. Gatewood said he’s fed up with what the pilot program has done to his Kalihi neighborhood and the other places in which he drives.
“It’s ridiculous. I’m seeing trash all over,” he said. “Something has to be done. It’s getting so nasty everywhere.”
It’s probably not shocking that residents report that abandoned and vacant properties in Kalihi have become new sites for illegal dumping. However, Waikiki resident Stephany Sofos said the stink has even hit her hotel- and resort-heavy neighborhood.
“This is the epicenter of Hawaii tourism and the state’s most densely populated district, and the city isn’t picking up the garbage because someone hasn’t made an appointment. Are you serious?” Sofos said. “Homeless and rats are getting into the piles.”
Daniel Larkin, principal of Kalihi Waena Elementary School, said bulky pickup always has been a challenge for the school, but the problem has gotten “exponentially worse” since the pilot program ended monthly pickups.
“People keep dumping, and no one calls in for it,” Larkin said. “The city and county won’t pick up without someone calling it in — and it’s not the residents that I see dumping. We can’t call it in because we aren’t eligible for bulky pickup. We can’t touch it because it’s not on our property.”
Larkin said he’s already made phone calls and inquiries to the city and is hopeful that a remedy can be found before his students return to school Aug. 6.
“It’s a hazard for our kids,” Larkin said.
Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, Chinatown Community & Business Association president and chairwoman of the Downtown-Chinatown Neighborhood Board, said garbage piles, filled with bulky goods and “who knows what” regular garbage, also are creating access problems in Chinatown.
“It sounds good on paper, but it doesn’t work because lawless people don’t follow rules,” Shubert-Kwock said.
She said people are scared to call for an appointment for fear that they will be held responsible when someone illegally dumps. Shubert-Kwock added that to her the green stickers are less about educating violators and more about simply informing residents that the city won’t be removing a particular pile anytime soon.
“The green stickers are a joke. If the city can come out and tag an item, they should just remove it already. No one should have to live like this,” she said as she tried to cover her nose while navigating her scooter around a stinky Maunakea Street sidewalk heaped with dirty mattresses, broken toilets and household garbage like half-full tuna cans. “Pew.”
So far the city Department of Environmental Services’ pilot bulky item program, which began pickups June 3, has garnered:
>> Approximately 3,000 bulky item- related phone calls (asking for help scheduling and for basic information).
>> 1,800 nonmetal appointments made with 5,826 items collected totaling nearly 140 tons.
>> 518 white goods (metal items such as dishwasher, refrigerators, AC units, washer/dryers, etc.) appointments made with 566 units collected.
>> 2,800 green educational stickers issued on illegally (nonappointment items) dumped items. The city says it’s illegal to place items at the curb on any days other than the specified collection day or in areas other than that fronting your property. Property owners are subject to fines of up to $250 per offense; individuals are subject to fines of up to $2,500 per offense.
Source: City Department of Environmental Services