When a friend of mine texted to tell me that Mayor Alan Arakawa was closing all the county recycling centers, I didn’t believe her. I dismissed it, saying something like, “I don’t think the mayor’s that stupid.” Recycling is one of those subjects that should bring people together. After all, what’s controversial about asking people to be responsible when disposing of the waste they create? That we all live on an island with limited space and resources isn’t in dispute.
But on Monday, Mar. 25, Mayor Alan Arakawa proceeded to bring dispute to the issue of recycling on Maui. It was on that day that he confirmed plans to close all County of Maui recycling drop box centers, claiming that the emergence of private recycling centers was now sufficient to meet Maui’s recycling needs, and it was time for the county to get out of the industry.
“Originally, when these recycling centers were put up, there were no other recycling centers and the county was the only game in town,” he said in a Maui Now video interview posted that day. “Since then, in Kahului alone, there are at least four other recycling centers that I know of that are handling the same recycling that the county is doing… We’re paying three-quarters of a million dollars to have companies do recycling competing against the private sector which is making profits and getting paid nothing.”
That said, Arakawa tried to reassure residents. “There should be very little break in service because there are available recycling centers in almost all of the communities except for one that I know of–which is Hana,” he said.
When asked about the number of jobs lost under the proposal, Arakawa responded, “I don’t know.”
Arakawa’s assurances notwithstanding, people were outraged. Employees at Aloha Recycling encouraged patrons to voice their disapproval as article Comments sections flared up. Amidst comments chastising the Mayor and questioning his intelligence, serious concerns were voiced. “This is backwards thinking. When it comes to recycling … more is better,” wrote one Facebook commenter. Another poster who identified as “partially disabled” stated that the facility at UHMC was the only one accessible, and without it he would no longer be able to recycle. Upcountry recyclers questioned the practicality of trafficking used recyclables into Kahului.
But then, on that Thursday, something remarkable happened. The Mayor changed his mind.
“The residential drop box program will continue,” Arakawa said in a Mar. 28 news release sent out to “dispel rumors.”
“Due to the amount of confusion and concern that has been expressed regarding the status of County-funded residential drop box recycling sites,” the release stated, “there will be no changes to the current level of service until further analysis can be done.”
The mayor’s news release pointed the finger at flyers circulated by employees of Aloha Recycling. “These flyers have provided only partial information, and ensuing rumors have spawned a great deal of misinformation,” stated the news release.
The news release did not include any examples of “misinformation,” leading us to wonder if he meant lines like this, taken from the flyer:
• “The Mayor is considering shutting down ALL County Recycling Centers effective July 1, 2013”
• “We need your input to show how important these centers are for you and our community!”
• “You can voice your opinion at the Budget and Finance Committee meeting in your area to give your input”
The funny thing is the flyers were accurate. The Mayor was going to shut down all county recycling centers on July 1, 2013. “This is fact,” stated the Mayor himself in the Maui Now video. To emphasize the point, Arakawa made direct, unwavering eye contact with the camera as he said the words.
If anything, the flyers give the Mayor the benefit of the doubt by saying that he was “considering” shutting the county centers down. Real consideration is doing an analysis of public concern before staring down a camera and asserting that the July shutdown of a popular public service “is fact.”
“The flyers didn’t specify between county and private,” Arakawa’s spokesman Rod Antone said when asked what was meant by “confusion.” “People thought they would not have any place to recycle.”
Actually, the handouts did mention the closure of County recycling centers. And considering that most of the public criticism drawn from the closure centered more on the convenience of recycling rather than the absolute disappearance of it, this is a questionable argument.
Besides, if anyone was confused, it was The Maui News, which ran a story on Mar. 27 stating that Arakawa was planning to cut $700,000 of the recycling budget (Arakawa had actually said that closing the county recycling centers would save $700,000). The paper ran a correction two days later. But the mayor’s office news release made no reference to the article.
“Finding out how to fund [curbside recycling] is what is happening now,” Antone said. “Because people have voiced their opinions we understand that we do have to pay but not from closing centers. Money’s gotta come from somewhere. How do we as a sustainability oriented community pay for it, and what are willing to pay?”
Those are excellent questions. If only we’d started all this with the mayor staring into a camera and asking them.