Can Recycling of Construction Materials Solve Honolulu’s Waste Crisis?

Honolulu, we have a problem.

Hawaii’s capital has 80% of the state’s population and is the gateway for most of the 7 to 8 million tourists that visit annually.  Honolulu also grapples with a huge trash problem.  Over 1.5 million tons of trash builds up each year.  About one-third becomes incinerated to provide electricity. But whatever is not recycled ends up in a landfill southwest of the city, and it is filling up fast.

City leaders thought they had a solution for all that trash: shred it, bale it, and send it to a landfill in Washington state.  But objections were raised: Native Americans who administer the land where the dump is located filed a court order to prevent the import of trash. Another landfill exists on the Big Island of Hawai’i, but a local ordinance there prohibits the delivery of trash from outside the island. Meanwhile, space is running out, and no one wants a landfill in their backyard. Why would they? Oahu is crammed with natural beauty. But that trash has go to go somewhere. Increased recycling could be part of a solution.

One Honolulu City Councilman, Donovan Dela Cruz, introduced a bill that would require building permit applicants to submit plans that would prove the reuse or recycling of 60% of any demolished and dismantled materials. Such a plan appears to be a solid place to start: According to Re-use Hawai’i, a non-profit that procures and resells used construction materials, about 35% of landfill waste in Hawai’i comes from construction projects. The bill exceeds general LEED requirements, which suggest that 50% of building materials be diverted from landfills.

As it stands, the bill needs some work. Local contractors support the spirit of the bill, but want incentives like tax breaks and a rapid permit process included in any new law. The bill also does not state what the penalty would be for any violation.

The problem will likely get worse before any solution is found. Hawai’i has had its share of economic problems the past decade, but it is still growing: various indices rank the Honolulu area as having one of the highest qualities of life on the globe—and tourists are coming back in droves.

One place where contractors could start is in Re-Use Hawai’i’s warehouse. The organization receives used building materials, and then resells them at a sliver of the cost when  compared to the prices at building supply stores. Proceeds from the warehouse’s sales go towards Re-use Hawai’i’s expansion and education projects while reducing trips to Oahu’s landfill.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

One response

  1. That’s an impressive step, one that would never find its way to passing in the continental states. 60% is also a pretty significant amount as far as a building project is concerned.

    It could make a sizable dent though. Construction may factor in differently on an island in the middle of the Pacific, but nationally we produce around 70 million tons of C+D waste every year compared to about 250 million tons of municipal “trash.”

    It’s also all the more appropriate for Hawaii. Shipping by boat is one of the least sustainable modes of travel which means foregoing more boat trips full of building material is another added savings.

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