By Scott Albright
Hawaii County officials are considering new measures to ensure commercial trash haulers don’t skip out on paying tipping fees at the island’s two landfills. Zendo Kern, Puna’s representative for County Council District 5, is proposing a bill that would require commercial trash haulers to hand over some form of collateral to the county before being allowed to unload waste at the landfills.
“We would still bill them, but this way we would have some money on the side in case they default,” Kern said.
Commercial trash haulers who are continuously delinquent on their tipping fee payments are causing quite the headache for some county officials. According to Dora Beck, acting director of the Department of Environmental Management, $1,589,537.84 of the $2,481,593.73 in the accounts receivable for solid waste was over 90 days past due as of November 30, 2012. Beck did not say how much of those overdue payments are from tipping fee charges only, but she did explain the difficulties the county has had in collecting those payments and what is currently being done to alleviate the problem.
“The Department has begun denying access to Landfill customers who are delinquent on their accounts, has filed lawsuits, and is looking at possible changes to the County Code that will aide in the collection or prevention of past due fees,” Beck wrote in an email. “Lawsuits are a useful tool but its effectiveness depends on the financial situation of the offender.”
Kern’s proposed bill is not designed to make commercial trash haulers who are late on their bills pay up, but rather seeks to prevent similar offenses from occurring in the future. The bill is still in the working stages, but what Kern envisions is a system where commercial trash haulers are required to provide cash or a certified check in the amount of about 1 ½ times of their monthly tipping fees as collateral to the county. If the hauler is delinquent on their monthly payment then the county will take out the designated amount from the collateral to cover the costs.
According to Beck, about 60 percent of the county’s budget for disposal of solid waste comes from a general fund and about 25 percent from tipping fees. Despite the fact that more than $1.5 million of solid waste management money is overdue, Beck explained “lost revenue from tip fees does not greatly impact the County’s ability to effectively dispose of solid waste.” Over the long term the delinquent payments do add up though, and the costs have to be adjusted somewhere in the budget or passed on to another entity outside the county’s control.
One proposal introduced last year by former councilor Brittany Smart would essentially pass those costs off to anyone disposing of their waste at landfills or transfer stations through a ‘pay as you throw’ system. That proposal, which would have required residential and commercial trash haulers to pay a fee upon entrance to a transfer station or landfill, was rejected by the county council, and, according to Beck, “there are currently no plans to charge residential customers a fee to dispose of waste at the transfer stations.”
Rather than charge a fee, the county may end up doing the opposite – that is allowing small businesses to use the transfer stations for waste disposal at no to little cost. The idea was listed on the Jan. 30 Department of Environmental Management Commission meeting’s agenda but has yet to be officially considered by the county. Kern, who was familiar with the item but unsure of who introduced the concept, explained that under the proposal free use of the transfer stations would not be for commercial trash haulers, but rather for small businesses who dispose of their own waste instead of hiring commercial haulers to do it for them. He said under the concept a small enterprise like a bed & breakfast would be allowed to purchase bags from the county with a logo or some other type of identifier on them that they could use to dispose of commercial waste at the transfer stations. Fee-free trash disposal for small businesses could potentially provide an incentive for small businesses to manage their own waste, and in effect require them to reduce that waste so as to prevent unnecessary trips to transfer stations.
A 2006 Kohala Center report titled Managing Waste on the Big Island, explained that commercial enterprises are a huge contributor to the county’s waste problem, particularly when the economy is doing good. According to the report, increasing waste generation rates on the Big Island grew “somewhat faster in what is defined as the ‘commercial sector,’ which in this case includes both businesses (large and most small) and some more densely populated and wealthier residential developments that have contracted with private waste haulers to have their trash removed curbside/locally.”
The report goes on to say, “Hawai?i County’s per capita waste generation was 9.5 pounds per day, compared to a national average listed by the EPA as only 4.5 pounds per day” in fiscal year 2004-2005. According to data from the EPA’s website, the national average for municipal solid waste disposal was 4.45 pounds per person per day in 2010. No data was available for Hawai?i County’s waste generation rate for 2010, but a December 2009 County of Hawai?i Integrated Resources and Solid Management Plan Update states the county generated 9.4 pounds of waste per person per day in fiscal year 2007-2008.
Although there are differing views as to why more waste was generated on the Big Island per capita than in the rest of the country, the Kohala report says “most agree that it is related to both the island’s high level of tourism and its general reliance on imported goods, both of which tend to result in the consumption and disposal of large amounts of packaging waste.”
The report predicted that the increase in tipping fee rates, which rose from $35 per ton in 2003 to $85 per ton in 2008, “should provide an incentive for those generators who pay tipping fees to reduce their disposal rate,” however the report did not indicate how small commercial trash haulers would be able to afford increased rates while hauling less trash without passing the costs off to the waste generators.
Robin Bauman, DEM business manager, said the increase in tipping fees could be attributed to the high cost of shipping waste/recyclables off-island, while Kern said he believes the tipping fee rates are fair. According to an October 2012 Waste Business Journal article, the average price to dispose a ton of waste in US landfills was $45.02, almost half the cost of the Big Island’s rates.
(Scott Albright graduated with a Master’s degree in China-U.S. Relations from the University of Hawai?i at Hilo in May 2012. Before moving to Hawai?i Scott worked as a newspaper reporter for The Independent in Edgewood, New Mexico, where he was awarded first place in the 2009 New Mexico Press Association Newspaper Contest for best continuous coverage in a class I weekly newspaper. Scott is currently seeking to continue his education at the University of Auckland in New Zealand where he plans to obtain a PhD researching the role newspapers have in promoting peace and cross-cultural dialogue in global settings. To see more of Scott’s work visit www.chinausrelations.com or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ChinaUSRelation.)