Nothing is simple at Honolulu Hale, not even the commonsense idea of the city charging for garbage and recycling pickup, something already done in other Hawaii counties and innumerable jurisdictions on the mainland.

Does the City and County of Honolulu need more revenue? Of course it does. Like it or not, the considerable cost of subsidizing the operation and maintenance of rail service is just around the bend. No one knows how much that will be, but everyone knows passenger fares won’t come close to covering the tab.

And the current budget is so tight that Councilwoman Kymberly Pine has resurrected her proposal to burn — that’s right, incinerate — Honolulu’s recyclables because it’s not profitable to ship them away for actual recycling. (Her latest attempt calls for putting some of the savings from this very ungreen idea toward eventually establishing an on-island recycling facility.)

Meanwhile, Mayor Kirk Caldwell has been jumping through hoops for years trying to convince the City Council to start charging for residential garbage pickup.

Honolulu picks up garbage, recycling and yard debris for free. Is it time to start charging for the service?

Richard Wiens/Civil Beat

In 2017, he suggested $10 a month for a single-family home. No go.

Earlier this year, he proposed $5 a month. Unh-unh.

Then he came back with $15 a month combined with a drop in some property tax rates. Not looking likely.

Caldwell called that last proposal “revenue neutral,” but you don’t have to be cynical to recognize it for what it really is: a desperate attempt to establish the fee that, once in place, could presumably be raised in the future.

To which we say: Bring it on. If anything, these proposed fee levels are too low.

We’re not calling for a spending spree at City Hall. But more money is needed to cover unavoidable obligations, and it no longer makes sense to provide garbage pickup service for free.

Very few jurisdictions offer the deal that Honolulu has for years: The city supplies the collection bins for garbage, recycling and yard debris and hauls it all away on regular schedules at no charge.

Some cities still offer free pickup but charge for the containers. Most, however, levy monthly pickup fees for single-family service, such as San Francisco ($40), Los Angeles ($36), and Seattle (from $24 to $115 depending on container size).

New City Councilman Tommy Waters said he opposed charging for garbage pickup because constituents told him it would lead to more illegal dumping. But why would Oahu residents be more prone to committing that crime than people anywhere else who are already paying to have their trash hauled?

Are people more likely to defile paradise here than on the neighbor islands? Take a look at this county-by-county comparison of garbage pickup rates in Hawaii (it assumes a new $5 monthly charge for Oahu):

It’s not impossible for the City Council and the mayor to reach accord when it comes to refuse pickup. For example, they have agreed on a pilot program beginning June 3 whereby bulky item pickup will require an appointment in a large part of urban Oahu.

For years, those bulky items have piled up on residential streets awaiting pickup that was supposed to happen within a certain timeframe but often didn’t.

Council members are still considering whether the city should charge for those pickup appointments.

Of course it should.

Whether it’s bulky item pickup or regular trash hauling, you should get what you pay for.

The resulting revenue would help with that upcoming rail operations and maintenance bill, and could definitely enable us to forget about the dubious notion of saving money by burning our recyclables.

A note to our readers

While asking for your support is something we don’t like to do, the simple fact is that our reporters, our journalism, and our impact rely on it. Since lifting our paywall and becoming a nonprofit in mid-2016, our local newsroom has benefitted from a stream of charitable support from people who want our type of journalism to survive. People like you who understand that our work is essential to a better-informed community. If you value the work of our journalists, show us with your tax-deductible support.

About the Author