Estimate called a ploy to discourage recycling
April 26, 2015
By EILEEN CHAO - Staff Writer (firstname.lastname@example.org) , The Maui News
Dozens of Maui Meadows residents had expressed a willingness to pay an extra $5 or $6 per month to keep their curbside recycling program, but cost estimates released last month by the Maui County Solid Waste Division have some residents reconsidering.
It will cost South Maui residents $22 per month to retain their "3 Can Plan," according to a county notice issued in March to about 1,750 households that participated in the county's pilot project, which began August 2012. The curbside recycling program was discontinued Feb. 1, but residents were allowed to keep their bins (green for green waste and blue for other recyclables) while the county assessed what it would cost residents who wanted to keep the program.
Department of Environmental Management officials told residents during a Maui Meadows Neighborhood Association meeting in January that curbside recycling costs about $70 per year per refuse account, about $5.83 per month. When asked whether they would be willing to pay the extra amount to keep the service, dozens who attended the meeting raised their hands.
But the latest cost estimates are nearly four times what residents had expected to pay, and some think the heightened costs are a ploy to discourage supporters of the program.
"We were absolutely surprised, especially in light of the numbers that had been given prior where we were told the cost of recycling was substantially less," Maui Meadows Neighborhood Association President Debra Greene said in a phone interview Wednesday. "It seems like the administration, for whatever reason, is working against what the people want."
Maui Meadows resident Larry Shapiro added that "the public does not have any confidence in any of their (the department's) accounting."
"There's been no transparency or accountability from the Department of Environmental Management as to what the costs actually are," Shapiro said.
In September, the Maui County Council ordered a performance audit of the Solid Waste Division after the administration eliminated holiday trash pickup and reduced landfill hours for several weeks due to "lack of resources." That audit is pending. Department Deputy Director Michael Miyamoto explained that the original monthly $5.83 figure had been based on expanding the curbside recycling program countywide. "When you distribute those costs over all the account holders we have (about 20,000), then the price goes down," Miyamoto said.
The new cost estimate is an accurate projection that takes into account economies of scale, material recovery fees, green waste processing fees and outreach and education costs, Miyamoto said.
If the county decides to continue the curbside recycling service, all households along the two South Maui routes that took part in the pilot project would need to pay the additional $22 for the curbside recycling service, Miyamoto said.
Not everyone is in favor of keeping the 3 Can Plan, Miyamoto said, and the department has fielded calls from at least a dozen South Maui residents who wish to have their twice-a-week regular trash pickup reinstated.
"They were actually calling us to tell us to come pick up these cans," Miyamoto said.
While Maui Meadows residents have been the most vocal about keeping their curbside recycling, the majority of the 1,750 households that took part in the pilot program do not live in the rural subdivision, he said.
Also adding to the $22 estimate are material recovery fees and green waste processing fees, Miyamoto said. While Maui EKO Compost had agreed to take green waste from the pilot program for free, it would not continue the discount if the program were permanent, he said.
Lastly, the department factored in added costs for program outreach and education. By February, "we were getting a high contamination rate," Miyamoto said, referring to the rate at which nonrecyclable materials are mixed in with recyclable solid waste. "Initially, it started at 1 to 2 percent and then it started escalating." Department officials previously reported the contamination rate was about 20 percent.
"We need to go back out to those people and re-educate them, so a lot of that (cost) is time and our staff incorporated costs," Miyamoto said.
South Maui residents still have recycling options. The county's Kihei Recycling Center on Welakahao Road, Kihei Compost and Maui EKO Compost accept recyclable materials and green waste; residents just have to haul them there. Maui Recycling Service, a private provider, offers curbside recycling pickup at rates starting at $30.40 per month.
Maui County Council Member Don Couch, who holds the South Maui residency seat, said Wednesday that he has received calls and email from residents on both sides of the issue - those who wish to keep the 3 Can Plan and others who are "fine" with hauling their recyclables to recycling centers.
"My thought is that if we are going to do Anaergia . . . then that is going to be our material recovery facility, so it wouldn't be a good use of taxpayer money to start up the 3 Can Plan countywide," Couch said. "That being said, since the cans are already out there and ready to go, we might as well keep that up until we know for sure about Anaergia."
Mayor Alan Arakawa signed an agreement with California-based Anaergia Services last year for the company to build a $100 million Maui Resource Recovery Facility. Anaergia is stalled in talks with Maui Electric Co. and other potential consumers for the renewable fuels it will produce at the Puunene facility, slated to come online in 2018.
County spokesman Rod Antone said that the administration is optimistic that the facility will be built on schedule.
"It's not that we're against recycling. We just got to do it in a way that's sustainable for Maui County," Antone said, adding that the Anaergia facility would reduce waste that goes into the landfill, sort out as much recyclables as possible and produce renewable fuel.
The Solid Waste Division distributed about 1,000 surveys earlier this month to Maui Meadows, South Maui and residents in other areas.
The surveys, which were due Wednesday, include questions such as: "Do you think it is reasonable that an added 3-can service and associated increased costs be forced upon all residents on a route?" and "Do you agree that the county should make decisions for all account holders based on what is affordable and sustainable for a majority of those account holders?"
Some residents criticized the survey questions as "biased" and "leading."
"That could no way be considered a scientific or unbiased survey that's trying to actually find out people's opinions," Shapiro said.
Greene accused the survey questions of "leading people into the answers that they (the county) want to hear."
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.
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