Hawaii Monitor: Demise Of Community Recycling Bins A Policy Failure

Ian Lind

You probably haven’t worried about this little-noticed impact of Honolulu’s daily newspaper monopoly.

The merger of the two formerly competing newspapers can be blamed, at least in part, for the demise of the city’s popular network of white community recycling bins, according to a recent city report.

The report released last month by the Department of Environmental Services said the shift to a single monopoly newspaper, coupled with the continuing drift of readers to digital access, reduced the amount of newsprint being deposited into the white bins, leaving more space for lighter cardboard boxes, often unflattened.

The result was a reduction in the average weight of a full bin by 50 percent or more, from two to three tons a decade ago to one ton. There was a similar decline in recycling revenue, the city says.

The success of the HI-5 beverage container redemption program and the expansion of curbside recycling also contributed substantially to reduced use of the community bins.

The city says the total amount of recyclable material collected in the white bins dropped from 12,000 tons in fiscal year 2007 to 4,000 tons in FY2012, with per-ton costs to collect and process rising substantially.

At the program’s peak, there were white bins at 120 locations across the island.

But this year Mayor Peter Carlisle’s administration decided the $1.5 million program no longer made economic sense, and rather abruptly pulled the plug at the end of June. Although the city council reinserted $2.4 million into the current budget to continue the white bin program, and some of the bins have been left in place by the former contractor, the mayor refused to release the funds to continue.

So after two decades of being told to recycle and encouraged to rely on the community bins, suddenly most of them are gone. Those that remain quickly fill to overflowing, and we’re stuck in Kaaawa with a growing stack of previously read newspapers, a generous stash of empty wine bottles, and a growing pile of other recyclables with nowhere to go.

I’m still fuming about Carlisle’s decision to kill the white bin program and I don’t think I’m alone.

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