City officials are hoping a new refuse disposal policy for Chinatown merchants will improve the eternally messy trash situation in Honolulu’s oldest neighborhood.
Effective immediately, the roughly 90 Chinatown businesses that pay extra to receive six-days-a-week trash pickup will be
required to place their waste
in yellow, specially marked,
4-millimeter-thick trash bags if they want to receive service, Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Department of Environmental Services officials said Monday.
Chinatown merchants said they have some questions and concerns about the new policy but are willing to try it out.
“We need to try new things,” Caldwell said at a news conference held in the middle of bustling Kekaulike Mall. The city anticipates pushback for the new policy. “Change is difficult,” the mayor said. “But if we don’t
adjust and make change, things are not going to improve.”
In response to the growing
Chinatown trash situation, the city on June 1 began requiring all merchants to bag their disposal. But night-active scavengers tore into the bags, spilling what they left
behind strewn along neighborhood streets and sidewalks.
Before June, “In the evening you’ll see opala that’s put out there in boxes and in cardboard,” Caldwell said. “It spills over into the street, and those who don’t have homes go through all of the things and throw them out. It just creates an unsanitary situation and also something that’s not
appealing to look at. And it gets in the way of both guys on sidewalks who are walking pedestrians and people driving down King Street, Hotel Street and other streets in Chinatown.”
The city will distribute about 21,000 bags free to qualifying merchants through Jan. 31. After that they will be required to purchase the bags — which run 44 inches tall by 33 inches wide — from
approved city vendor Island Plastic Bags Inc.
Adrian Hong, president of Island Plastic Bags, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser after the news
conference that his company intends to charge qualifying vendors the same price it’s charging the city, currently $46.45 for a box of 75 bags, or about 62 cents each.
A 4-millimeter-thick bag is much more difficult to cut into, Hong said.
Merchants are being asked to comply with the new policy, which requires them to break down cardboard boxes and stuff them into the authorized bags along with their other waste.
Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina praised some of the vendors who’ve installed security cameras to catch rubbish thieves in action, and she encouraged others do to the same.
With the yellow bags, “now we can determine what is city’s and what are people’s who are getting illegally added to the pile and getting free service,” Kahikina said.
Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business and Community Association and frequent critic of Caldwell’s policies for the area, said the bag policy is worth a try. It’s not just those living on the street who are adding to the trash problem, but illegal dumpers who either are merchants not participating in the city’s six-day pickup program or people who come from elsewhere.
“There’s lots more to do, but we think we’re on the right path,” she said.
Alice Chee, who’s operated the Look Funn Factory at Kekaulike Mall for 48 years, said she hopes the program will improve the trash situation in Chinatown so it will be more inviting for people to make the trek into the area.
Chinatown businesses pay
$30 or more a month to receive six-day-a-week pickup services. How much depends on how much trash they generate.
Haiyan Li, who co-owns 555 Market on the North King Street side of the mall with husband Dexing Li, said while they think the yellow bags are a good idea, she’s worried about the economics involved. Li estimated she might need as many as 100 bags a week.
Since the new rule requires bags to be no heavier than 50 pounds, Li said she’s hoping the city will consider authorizing a second, smaller type of bag to lower costs.
Paul Min, owner of You Market 2 for the past 20 years, said he understands the concerns being raised. But he said he supports the bigger bags because they’re more difficult for people to rip or cut open. Vendors will just have to
adjust by learning to break down their cardboard boxes and sort their trash more carefully to not overload their bags, he said.
Cutting the boxes into smaller pieces also will render them
less desirable to the homeless who tend to use larger pieces
as part of their encampments
or to cover themselves, Min said.
“If there’s nothing for them to use, we will have less rubbish
Nick Lee, a co-owner of Cindy’s Lei and Flower Shoppe on Maunakea Street, said his longtime, family-owned business will support the new rule so long as the city steps up enforcement against violators.
Timothy Houghton, deputy environmental services director, said violators can be fined as much as $2,500. “Our intent is to try to get people to comply,” he said. If they choose not to, they will receive fines that will escalate with multiple offenses, he said.
The next step may be to move to bins similar to those used by most Oahu residents, except with a locking top that opens when flipped over by an automated
refuse truck, Houghton said.
Shubert-Kwock said she hopes Chinatown residents can be given their own bags so they can be serviced.
Environmental Services personnel said they are working on a plan for residential customers.
A resident of a smaller Chinatown boardinghouse, who asked not to be identified, said her building manager instructs her to place her trash on the sidewalk next to vendors’ trash and is wondering where she should dispose of
her waste under the new policy. City officials were informed about the situation and said they are