Trouble in Paradise

The state of Hawaii might soon be known as something other than the location of fantastic beaches, the site of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the setting of perhaps the most memorable “Brady Bunch” episodes and the home of Don Ho. Recent news reports have revealed that parts of the state could be ready to ship trash to the mainland sometime later this year.

OK, Hawaii's becoming a trash exporter would no doubt have little effect on the state's national image. Still, as states that send their garbage outside their boundaries for disposal know, trash exportation can cause quite a stir, both at home and in the receiving jurisdiction.

Last year, amid growing concern about dwindling landfill space among local and state officials, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a rule allowing Hawaii to ship its municipal solid waste to other states. Under the rule, garbage only can be transported in airtight plastic bales intended to eliminate the risk of spreading plant pests. The proposed version of the rule banned any agricultural or yard waste, but the version issued by APHIS allows for a negligible amount that might be included in collection containers.

According to APHIS, eight of the 12 letters it received during the public comment period expressed support for the rule. The others primarily voiced environmental and pest risk concerns, which the rule makers did not deem significant.

Jim Hodge, CEO of Seattle-based Hawaiian Waste Systems, wants to transport garbage collected by the Rolloffs Hawaii firm on the island of Oahu to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Washington state. He told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that his firm is waiting only for the Hawaii Department of Health to approve construction of a facility on the island that would compact the trash prior to shipment to the mainland.

However, according to a report by the Honolulu television station KITV, the Honolulu county government (which encompasses all of Oahu island), fearful of losing revenue from tipping fees at its landfill and waste-to-energy plant, will try to stop Rolloffs from sending its waste to Washington state. Consequently, it is awaiting the ruling in the flow control case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court with great interest (For more information on the case, see “Day in Court,” p. 6).

What remains to be seen — if the transports come to pass — is how residents in Washington state would respond. As industry members know all too well, trash shipments routinely prove unpopular, often wildly so, with residents who live near the disposal site, despite the safety of the imports. Hawaii may be many people's idea of paradise, but even paradise has to confront the tensions that surround the interstate movement of waste.

The author is the editor of Waste Age