When Mayor Alan Arakawa was elected to office in 2002, he promised to finally build a real Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). It would put the county on the fast track to a full recycling program that’s been long needed. In fact, a prior environmental task force appointed by former Mayor James “Kimo” Apana pegged MRF construction as its number one recommendation to protect our island’s natural resources.
But if you look around, we have no MRF. There are a variety of reasons for this, mainly dealing with “red tape,” but the county officials I spoke with acknowledged that we’d be very lucky to see ground break on a facility by the end of the year.
The failure to build a MRF has nothing to do with money. The Maui County Council has appropriated $450,000 on a MRF in each budget for fiscal years 2004-2006, bringing the grand total to $1.3 million. According to Rob Parsons, the mayor’s assistant for environmental concerns, the original goal for an up-and-running MRF was January 2005, which would have coincided with implementing the Bottle Bill on Maui. That projected deadline has passed, but neither Parsons nor the Department of Public Works and Environmental Management had any idea when construction may start.
Parsons claimed that lease negotiations between the county and S & F Land Company, which owns the proposed MRF site, have dragged on for over a year. Once the lease is finally signed, construction may begin on a short-term recycling facility.
Currently, the county wants to put Maui’s new recycling facility in the central Maui baseyard off Mokolele Highway, between Kihei and Kahului. The 20,000-square-foot building will house the equipment needed to sort all the island’s recyclables. The MRF will receive and separate all commingled recyclables—like mixed plastics and different grades of paper—into marketable goods that can be resold as raw material. The facility would use a magnet to separate steel from aluminum and air blowers to separate glass and plastics, according to a recent memo on the MRF from Parsons to the County Council.
Yet the mayor’s office and Public Works acknowledged that the baseyard site would not be the final home for a MRF. The county would prefer a final MRF constructed on county land, and both departments alluded to the old Pu’unene airfield, recently purchased by the county from the state, as a final home for recycling facilities. The old airfield could ultimately combine a MRF and a facility for storing and processing abandoned cars.
Unfortunately, this long-term goal remains a bureaucratic dream. Even as prices continue to skyrocket for materials like steel to build a temporary MRF, and leasing land would cost taxpayers more than expediting the facility’s construction on a long-term site like the old airfield (which taxpayers have already paid for), the county seems intent on continuing the current leasing discussions for a short-term operation.
“I’ve been hearing about the old [Pu’unene airfield] as a possible recycling site since [then Mayor] Linda Lingle hired me in 1991,” Public Works Recycling Coordinator Hana Steel said. She also speculated that procuring the land for recycling purposes may prove a lengthy and arduous process.
Without a MRF, the county’s recycling apparatus is stressed to the max. In fact, so many Maui county residents are returning their bottles that redemption centers, storage facilities and wholesale recyclers are struggling to keep up.
Parsons said he recognizes the urgency of a central recycling facility for Maui. “We’re not maximizing our ability to market recyclable [material] with the current drop-box facilities,” he said.
The Department of Public Works and Management agree with the mayor and non-profits like the Maui Recycling Group, in that a MRF is vital to Maui’s voter-approved decision to institute recycling programs instead of garbage incineration projects. It’s a key component of our island’s plan to capture as much resource material in our waste stream as possible for recycling.
“We are leaving a debt of garbage to future generations by continuing [to throw recyclables] into landfill,” said Steel. “The amount a MRF will eventually cost the county is trivial relative to the costs of maintaining and monitoring landfills, which is about $500,000 per square acre.”
And there’s a lot of recyclables ending up as trash in our county’s landfills. The most recent estimates county officials could provide—which were 10 years old—claim Maui’s waste makeup is approximately 27 percent paper products, with glass, plastic and metals constituting another 18 percent. Another 43 percent is organic material that could end up as compost.
Clearly, local environmental groups are unhappy with the sluggish pace towards construction and development. Wilma Nakamura, the Maui Recycling Group’s executive director, believes the delay sends the wrong message about the importance of recycling on Maui.
“It’s hard to take this administration’s commitment to recycling seriously,” she said.
Diverting recyclable resources from landfills remains a high priority around the state. While Maui does not currently suffer from the landfill shortages that plague Oahu, the island’s growing population will put pressure on garbage capacity. Other factors, like resort renovations and future demolitions will quickly fill the current dump in Pu’unene.
Meanwhile the MRF remains stuck between floors of the county’s Kalama O Maui building. That certainly questions the County’s commitment to recycling. MTW