Nonprofit groups that clean up beaches, parks and trails are being told they can’t dispose of their trash at most refuse centers, even though those are open to residents.

Michael Loftin, executive director of 808 Cleanups, said the Department of Environmental Services is interpreting city policy as requiring nonprofits to bring trash to the H-POWER facility in Kapolei. 

H-POWER, which is operated under a public-private partnership through a city contract with Covanta Honolulu, generates about $65 million a year by turning trash into energy, which is then sold to Hawaiian Electric Co. The city receives a portion of that profit.

Honolulu’s H-POWER plant turns trash into electricity. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But for nonprofits that are already tight on cash, driving trucks full of trash all the way to Kapolei can drive up gas costs. He said 808 Cleanups had long brought trash to one of Oahu’s six “drop-off convenience centers” and security guards accept loads twice a week without issue, even thanking them for their work.

He pointed to the environmental services website, which states “residents may use any of these locations free of charge” and “no more than two (car) loads per resident will be allowed per day.”

“What’s happened is other groups that do (bigger) cleanups at once are running into issues and they’re doing bigger cleanups at one time,” Loftin said.

Confusion Over City Regulations

What makes the situation more puzzling to Loftin and other nonprofit operators, is that many times the groups are partnering with the city Department of Parks and Recreation in cleanups of city property.

But, according to emails provided to Civil Beat, the environmental services agency told Loftin the Department of Parks and Recreation is charged for hauling away trash at the H-POWER plant because volunteers do cleanups on its behalf. None of the six drop-off convenience centers are supposed to accept trash from nonprofits because they lack the ability to track the weight and cost of loads, the agency said.

When convenience centers receive too much trash, the city has to pay additional overtime and hauling costs. Trash bins filling up too quickly could cause temporary closures and in turn, households not being serviced, the email said.

The environmental services agency wrote that it planned to discuss the issue with the parks department, but only H-POWER was cleared to accept trash from nonprofits. The agency identified two of three trash “transfer stations” capable of accepting trash from nonprofits, but added the parks department has to pay an additional fee at those locations.

Loftin said he’s never encountered such problems in the field and “expected to hear a thanks, but heard stop doing this and crack down on security at those locations.”

The parks department has provided supplies, like paint to cover graffiti, for cleanups and helped work out trash disposal in the past, Loftin said, but he’s frustrated by the “roadblock” at environmental services.

Markus Owens, a spokesman for the environmental services department, said nonprofits need to obtain a waiver in advance to dump for free. Though residents are permitted to dispose of two loads of trash for free, it’s “bending the rules” for one person to bring trash from a beach, not their home.

Convenience centers were designed for residential waste, not commercial and nonprofit waste, according to an email attributed to Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina.

The city waives fees for cleanup trash delivered to H-POWER. Nonprofits aren’t allowed to deliver trash for free at other refuse centers because of “capacity restrictions and the added cost of having to haul that waste to H-POWER,” she wrote.

Like 808 Cleanups, the Oahu Surfrider Foundation’s cleanups tend to be less than two truckloads, said Stuart Coleman, regional coordinator of the organization. The parks department usually coordinates its trash pickups, but the nonprofit sometimes takes its trash to convenience centers without issue.

Coleman said he hadn’t heard of the regulations that require nonprofits to bring trash to H-POWER, but volunteers who have been working for hours shouldn’t have to “bend over backwards” to drive to Kapolei and dispose of garbage. Volunteers need access to the nearest trash drop-off site.

“We’re nonprofits that are volunteers providing a community service … it seems kind of crazy to me that they would make it more difficult,” he said.


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