Greening the Big Island
Why Zero Waste makes dollars and sense for the County of Hawai'i.

Under contract with Rick Anthony, of Richard Anthony Associates, I’ve been visiting the Big Island of Hawai`i with Rick to assess how discarded organic resources are generated, collected, and managed. Rick is an internationally renowned lecturer, resource management specialist, and one of the founding fathers of the global Zero Waste movement. He was hired to develop a Zero Waste Plan for the island, and I covered the organics section as well as much of the writing of the final report, currently in draft form.

Resource management on the Big Island is currently in a critical phase. Approximately 70% of what is currently discarded in Hawai`i is landfilled, and one of the island’s only two landfills, in Hilo, is subject to closure in 2012. In 2003, Hawai’i set a target of 50% diversion by 2008, and 80% by 2013. And in December 2007, “A Resolution to Embrace and Adopt the Principles of Zero Waste as a Long-Term Goal for Hawai’i County.”the island was passed by council.

Tubgrinder hard-facing Hawaiian style
Tubgrinder hard-facing Hawaiian style.

Although the island has some 3,000 farmers, and about one million acres of agriculturally zoned property, Approximately 90% of the Hawai`i’s food is purchased from the mainland. Replacing a mere 10% of imported foods with those locally produced would provide $313 million in value to the island, while creating jobs and giving residents better control of what they eat. We’d like to see the island return to producing 90% of its food, as it did just 50 years ago. Why? Well besides the economic and food security benefits, island farmlands represent an enormous opportunity to manage discarded organics such as yard trimmings, food scraps, soiled paper, and agricultural residuals. Imported food and horticultural products act as a conduit for invasives, and there are between 4,600 and 8,000 already there. production of plants and food crops on the island can minimize introduction of new species, and allow Hawai`i to more effectively deal with those it currently has.

Greenwaste drop off location photo
Composting and other organic management methods on the Big Island posses both promise and challenges.

Over one third or more of the County’s discards are organic materials that can greatly improve the island’s soil for farming, facilitating the production of more locally grown food while mitigating erosion and runoff, minimizing the need to import expensive pesticides and fertilizers, and conserving irrigation water.

Economic stimulation, local jobs, food security, community development, resource conservation and management, more productive farmlands, and cleaner air and water. That’s what Zero Waste, and our Hawaiian project, is all about.

You can read a synopsis of the Zero Waste Plan, or the Zero Waste Implementation Plan for the County of Hawai'i report in its entirety.