Two months in, public participation in the city’s revised bulky item trash pickup system is growing, and the pilot project is on its way to being a success — despite some glitches along the way, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Monday.
“I do believe that it is getting better,” Caldwell said, standing in front of the Island Colony tower next to a strip of sidewalk littered with mattresses, couches and other bulky items — and someone’s leftover french fries.
“People are getting comfortable and they’re starting to make appointments,” the mayor said.
In June the number of appointments went up 24% from the previous month while the tonnage of collected bulky items increased by 37% over the previous month, he said.
The pilot project, which is in effect from Foster Village to Hawaii Kai, requires residents to call to schedule a pickup for up to five identified items. Previously, residents in the area simply looked at the Department of Environmental Services’ website each month to see when a pickup truck was supposed to drive through their neighborhood cruising for bulky items.
City officials said the new system is more efficient because trash haulers won’t need to search for trash, and they’ve noticed a reduction in overtime.
Deputy Environmental Services Director Timothy A. Houghton said many areas that used to be subjected to piles of bulky items are now clean.
“There are lot of areas that have routinely had stacks of material out there on the curb, almost every week, even though they only got picked up once. That’s changed,” Houghton said. “A lot of them are not there anymore. Stacks have gone away. I think the bulky pilot is having an effect. It’s not perfect but that’s why it’s a pilot.”
The pilot project runs through the end of the year. Those living out of the Foster Village-to-Hawaii Kai zone are continuing with the old system, where pickup occurs in neighborhoods once a month without appointments.
“There are certain hot spots that are problems, and there are certain complaints being made that we need to adjust and (the Department of Environmental Services) is doing exactly that,” he said.
City officials have identified 162 “hot spots” that repeatedly have been the source of improperly set bulky items or “there are things being put there that are not correct,” Caldwell said. That includes carpet or other industrial items that the city does not pick up.
Last week the city began allowing individual condominium and apartment dwellers to make their own phone calls for pickup instead of limiting the number of pickups to one per address per month.
“We’re open to additional adjustments to the extent they make sense and we can implement them,” Caldwell said.
Looking at the pile of trash behind him, the mayor said such detritus is a hazard both to pedestrians and vehicles.
Caldwell urged residents to call whenever they see someone tossing items onto the sidewalks in their neighborhoods by calling 911 or the Environmental Services hotline at 768-3200. “They’ll come in and investigate,” he said.
Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina said photographs or video by neighbors in areas prone to abuse are the key to enforcement.
Among the biggest public complaints about the pilot project is that the city will pick up only the bulky items a person described when calling for the appointment. Other accumulated items, even those left by strangers, as the city acknowledges happens when bulky items are left on the curb, stay on the sidewalk.
It’s the responsibility of the owner of the adjoining property to remove the items to avoid possible fines, then call the city for a pickup, Kahikina said. After an educational period, her department is now beginning to enforce the law and issue warnings to those property owners under threat of fines that could run as high as $2,500 a day.
The city could grab the items not originally designated for pickup. But when the city does that, “we’re enabling illegal activity, and we’re making our taxpayers pay for something that should be picked up by commercial establishments,” Caldwell said.
Kahikina said there are alternatives to waiting a month for new bulky items to be grabbed, including taking the items to Honolulu’s disposal sites or calling nonprofits such as the Salvation Army that will go to a house and pick up reusable items within days.
Caldwell said there are few U.S. cities that provide bulky item pickup, and none that he knows of do it at no additional charge to taxpayers. The mayor has attempted to impose a fee for bulky item pickup but has been rebuffed by the City Council.
At least two members of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board said they don’t think the bulky item situation has gotten better.
Robert Finley, board chairman, said people are confused by the rule changes.
The switch to having individuals, rather than homeowner associations or building managers, call for appointments was a bad idea, he said. The associations and managers did a better job of scheduling appointments with the city, he said.
“I’m sorry to have to disagree with the mayor, but I think it’s been a disaster,” Finley said.
Property managers have been told each building is still allowed only two pickups a month, which is unrealistic for buildings that contain as many as 500 units, he said.
But Environmental Services spokesman Markus Owens said that’s no longer the case — it’s one pickup per apartment or condo unit for residential towers, regardless of address.
Finley said he wants the city to go back to sending bulky item crews to patrol Waikiki neighborhoods every Saturday, a policy that had been in place for over a decade. “We want to keep this place clean, not only for our residents, but our visitors,” he said.
But Owens said bulky item crews are still going into Waikiki every Saturday — except now only to prearranged spots for prearranged items.
Kathryn Henski, another Waikiki Neighborhood Board member, said Caldwell must be wearing rose-colored glasses if he thinks the bulky item policy change is working.
“It’s been a dismal failure. I wish they’d go back to the old way,” she said. “A lot of times, people try to fix things when they’re not broken.”
Waikiki resident Brian Nolan said he’s not sure when he’s supposed to call about illegal dumping. If someone were to make an appointment to have a sofa picked up by the city, “how would a neighbor know that’s not illegal dumping?”
Nolan, who was so bothered by the question that he got out of his car when he saw the news conference and waited until it finished before he asked Caldwell about it. The mayor told him to call the city and let them determine whether the item was placed there legally.
>> To schedule a pickup, go to opala.org.
>> For questions, call 768-3200.