Pay As You Throw is necessary
As the County Council continues to deliberate on the proposed Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) program, it bears repeating that the primary goal of the program is not to raise fees, but rather to incentivize recycling and reduce the amount of material that is disposed in the county’s landfill.
In various articles and editorials that have run recently in The Garden Island, facts as well as numbers have been reported, interpreted and reinterpreted. As we move closer to a final decision on PAYT – a decision that will have significant ramifications on the overall financial and environmental health of our county – we feel that a restatement of the basic facts and intentions of the program would be useful for all.
First of all, claims have been made that our households already recycle cans and bottles, so PAYT isn’t needed. This is not the case. While many households do recycle – and we applaud them for doing so – the majority of the recycling is limited to redeeming deposits for containers covered by the “Bottle Bill” (beverage containers included in the Deposit / Redemption (HI-5) Law).
It has been our determination, based upon the recycling tonnages received from our Kauai Recycles program, that most households do not recycle material other than HI-5 beverage containers. The majority of the non-redemption containers (wine, liquor, food, etc), cardboard, newspaper and mixed paper still end up in our landfill. The high level of participation in the HI-5 program is driven mainly by the economic incentive, exactly what we are trying to provide for the rest of the household recyclables by implementing PAYT. Also, a large portion of residential discards are organic food and yard waste that can be diverted through home composting efforts and our green waste drop offs at the transfer stations. The PAYT program would encourage participation in these low-cost programs.
Questions have been raised about the timing of this proposal. We can assure you that there is nothing covert or unusual about the timing of the proposed PAYT rollout. Our intention was to coincide with the completion of islandwide automation of refuse collection, which would allow all residents to then choose between a 64 gallon cart and a 96 gallon cart. It should be noted that PAYT is recommended by the County’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan (ISWMP) as adopted by the Kauai County Council, and the proposed ordinance and rate structure is consistent with the County’s PAYT Implementation Plan presented in detail to the Council last year. PAYT is being proposed now because it is the first opportunity to do so fairly on a consistent islandwide basis. Delaying PAYT would only serve to delay the conservation of precious airspace at the Kekaha Landfill.
It has also been stated that residential customers are being penalized in comparison to nonresidential customers. This assumption is being made because, while the draft bill proposes to increase fees for residential customers from $12 per month to $21 per month for a 96 gallon cart and to charge $12 per month for a 64 gallon cart, nonresidential customers who keep their 96 gallon cart will see no change in their $84 per month fee and will be charged $64 per month if they choose a 64 gallon cart.
While these numbers are accurate, it is important to note that the 18,000 residential county customers are only paying about 20 percent of their actual rubbish disposal cost through these fees, while the 272 nonresidential county customers are paying the full cost of the service through these fees. Furthermore, the nonresidential customers are charged as if their 96 gallon carts are always filled to the brim.
It bears repeating that the true intent of PAYT is to incentivize recycling. The fee schedule proposed by Draft Bill 2551 would increase Residential Refuse Collection Assessment (RRCA) revenues from about $2.74 million to about $3.51 million. Our alternate proposal ($10 for a 64 gallon cart and $18 for a 96 gallon cart) presented to the council would increase revenues to about $2.99 million; the additional revenues would support the anticipated increase in waste diversion program costs due to additional recycling and greenwaste diversion due to the economic incentives of PAYT.
If PAYT is adopted, the final fee schedule will be determined by the council. Some councilmembers are proposing fees that are substantially below those that were recommended by the administration. While we wish to minimize the financial impact to our residents, we believe that, at the very least, the fee schedule should be “revenue neutral” – i.e., that the county would realize no more or less revenues once the adjustments to cart sizes were made. An option for a revenue neutral fee schedule would be $9 for a 64 gallon cart and $16.50 for a 96 gallon cart, compared to the current fee schedule of $12 per month for a 96 gallon cart.
The task of managing the county’s solid waste is a costly one, and we continually seek ways to make operations more efficient. Our recycling programs are procured via competitive bid to ensure that we get the best price from a qualified bidder. We take advantage of grant funds to help fund some of our recycling programs. By introducing structural changes in how operations are managed, we have made significant strides in reducing overtime costs. Solid waste-related overtime costs have steadily declined from about $881,000 in fiscal year 2010 to about $192,000 in fiscal year 2014; a reduction of about $689,000 per year. The next phase of automating refuse collection, projected for July 2015, will continue this downward trend.
The bottom line is that PAYT is the right thing to do. It is a recommendation of the county’s ISWMP, it is recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency and has been successfully been implemented by thousands of communities across the nation. We are grateful for supportive editorials by both The Garden Island newspaper (Aug. 27) and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (Aug. 28) and look forward to the County Council passing the PAYT bill in a form that will allow us to achieve our goal of increased diversion, and in a timely manner so that we can prepare for its implementation next fiscal year.
Larry Dill is the county engineer