Time For Some Serious Trash Talk

Larry Price
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Wednesday - February 02, 2011
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The Honolulu City Council has been holding hearings about the spill of medical waste during recent heavy rains on Oahu. They want to prevent similar disasters in the future.

The medical waste spilled from the Waimanalo Gulch landfill and made its way onto Leeward Coast beaches, contaminating the water and littering the beaches.

Then something terrible happened. The Waimanalo Gulch landfill was closed. This is like a four-story dormitory with only one toilet that gets disabled. The longer it’s disabled, the more important the disposal of waste becomes.

It’s really quite remarkable that all our leaders are not authorities on trash disposal.

We worry a lot about recycling and green energy, but we’re unable to handle our waste management. We tried to ship it to the West Coast, but it didn’t work out.

Some of the opala caught fire just sitting around waiting to be shipped out.

On an island, there appear to be only four practical ways to get rid of trash: Legally dump it somewhere, burn it, recycle it or waste minimization.

I’m sure the ancient Hawaiians had a plan for disposing of trash and it didn’t include throwing it in an active volcano or a nearby swamp. Someone in the University of Hawaii Hawaiian Studies Program might look into how Hawaii matches up with other civilizations of yesteryear to see how we fared with handling the problem of trash.

How did the waste Hawaiians threw away compare to other civilizations? It has to have been a big problem because it involves the health and safety of the population.

The thought of garbage piling up is scary for a single reason:

Trash has played an important role in history - the bubonic plague, cholera and typhoid fever wiped out almost half of Europe and even threatened royal families.

Until recently, trash was calculated by volume and not weight. Trash volume is dependent upon how much the trash is compacted.

The weight of trash is dependent on moisture content, which varies greatly, depending on climate.

In Honolulu, the rough guess is that each resident generates about 2.5 pounds a day.

Multiply that by the number of residents and visitors on Oahu on any given day, and you are talking about a big problem that’s not going away.

Next time you drive down the Leeward Coast, look up on the side of the mountain to see the size of Waimanalo Gulch Landfill. The city has been trying for years to either move it, renovate it or expand it, and while recycling is a moderate solution, minimization of trash seems like the inevitable one.

Think for a minute about a similar Oahu problem: water!

One of these days we will run out of fresh water. One of the solutions would be to build a desalination plant, which was actually in the planning nearly a decade ago but then was postponed.

Why wait?

Taking a great interest in trash and waste management is not an exciting topic for our local politicians seeking recognition, but it’s encouraging that at least a couple of City Council members are interested in discussing the problem.

This is something that can’t be continually swept under the rug. It will come back to haunt us all.

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