By Robert Young, former Assistant Chief, Division of Refuse Collection and Disposal, ENV
One would be hard-pressed to think of an activity of people
that does not result in the production of solid waste (we
will use the terms garbage, rubbish, solid waste, trash
and refuse interchangeably). Because waste by definition
consists of things no one wants, waste gets no respect and
becomes the butt of jokes. However, there are a few who
find rubbish interesting. Perhaps the fascination is the
simple result of long association. This paper is written
by one who has had a long career association with rubbish
and wants to share his fascination. The writer thanks those
whose rubbish made it possible for his children to go to
Garbage In The County of Oahu
"One of the most vexing problems confronting the City
and County of Honolulu is without question the disposal
of its garbage." This still-relevant quotation came
from the June 1931 edition of the Star-Bulletin. But certainly
the problems of refuse collection and disposal predate 1931.
We will start our history of garbage and the Refuse Division
in the 1850's, during which time the Hawaiian Monarchy provided
urban public services. We can assume that these public services
included refuse collection because when county governments
were established by the Territorial Legislature in 1905,
the Territory turned over a "garbage crematorium"
to Oahu County. The type of solid waste handled by this
crematorium is not known; a guess would be that it handled
a portion of Honolulu's more putrescible waste, while more
combustible waste went to open dumps. The turnover was conditional:
the Territory told the fledgling Oahu County that the Territory
would take the crematorium back if the County could not
operate it properly. The Territory was somewhat of a youngster
itself, having been established only a few years earlier
In 1905, garbage removal was one of only six items appearing
in the County of Oahu's monthly operating expenses:
|Electric Light Plant
The only direct income for Oahu County was its refuse collection
fees. All other income to operate the County came as grants
from the Territorial government. The first Superintendent
of Refuse of the new Oahu County paid his refuse workers
1/31 of a month's pay for each day they worked. The workers
found they somehow never got a month's pay, even though
they worked the whole month (no scheduled work on Sundays).
After many complaints and an investigation, the fraction
was changed to 1/27, and workers then got a whole month's
pay. Sunday work paid extra. It was reported that one
enterprising worker was credited with seven Sundays of extra
work in his first month with the County. We must remember
that fiscal policies and procedures in a new organization
sometimes take time to develop. The Territory's payroll
procedure was to pay a department head, who would in turn
pay his employees. The Honolulu County department head
for refuse collection had come from the Territory, and he
wanted to follow the Territory's payroll procedure. But
the County treasurer wanted to pay employees directly.
Republicans and Democrats also took sides, and after an
extended battle, the treasurer's procedure prevailed.
In the rural areas of the new County, plantation supervisors
had close ties with County supervisors, which resulted in
cooperative efforts in the joint use of men and equipment.
Ordinances By The New County Government
Ordinances passed by the Board of Supervisors of
the new Oahu County were called Orders. To give a flavor
of what items the new County considered important, we present
a list of the Orders. There were only 11 passed in the
period 1905-1907 during the short existence of Oahu County.
Order No. Subject
- Regulating curbs and sidewalks
- Regulating the establishment of cemeteries
- Laundries not to spray clothes by mouth
- Unlawful to barricade gambling places
- Registration of motor vehicles
- Permit required for hunting with gun
- No motor vehicles allowed on Tantalus Rd
- No transport of swill 9am to 5pm and 9pm to 5am
- Regulating awnings over public sidewalks
- No motor vehicle operators under age 15
- No tenements within 500 ft. of public school
The transportation of swill (Order No. 8) must have been
a big problem in those days and for some time later. Here
is another list of ordinances whose only purpose was to
control the time of swill collection and transport:
|| 9 am to 5 pm and 9 pm to 4 am
||10 am to 5 pm and 9 pm to 4:30 am
||10 am to 5 pm in most of downtown & Kaimuki
||10 am changed to 11 am
||11 am changed to 12 noon
Other ordinances controlled the types of containers and
storage of said swill. Still other ordinances gave examples
of and spelled out the difference between swill (food suitable
for pigs) and garbage (leftovers from food preparation).
As a boy, the writer remembers the instruction, "No
egg shells or coffee grounds for the slop man." We
will keep in touch with swill at other opportunities.
Ordinances By The New Municipal Government
In January 1909, the City and County of Honolulu
(which superseded the County of Oahu) inaugurated its new
municipal government and its first Mayor, Joseph Fern, who
had won the election by just seven votes (his opponent did
not want a recount). The first ordinance concerning refuse
collection was Ordinance 25, approved June 1911, which authorized
the Board of Supervisors to appoint a suitable person to
the position of Garbage Inspector to supervise the collection
and disposal of rubbish and garbage. Ordinance 27 followed
a week later and stated that the owners of tenement houses
must provide containers for refuse. In 1919, Ordinance
173 gave the Mayor (instead of the Board of Supervisors)
the authority to appoint the Superintendent of Refuse, subject
to the approval of the Board of Supervisors, and also gave
the Superintendent the additional duties of street cleaning
and storm drain maintenance. In 1925, Ordinance 275 superseded
the provisions of Ordinance 27 concerning tenement houses,
and stated that persons and businesses that wanted refuse
collection service must put their refuse in substantially
constructed receptacles. A charge of $0.04 per cu. ft.
was established for business collection, and the fee for
dumping was $0.25 per cu. yd. Although this was the first
ordinance to set refuse fees, there must have been some
other prior authorization to collect refuse fees, since
such fees were being collected by Oahu County in 1905.
Ordinance 334 set a $1.00 per month minimum charge for business
collection in 1927.
Also in 1927, Ordinance 345 created the Department of Public
Works by consolidating various departments involved with
engineering, streets, garbage, water supply and sewers.
The Department of Public Works annual report of 1927 showed
that the refuse activity operated at an annual cost of $70,000,
had an income of almost $25,000 and collected about 150,000
cubic yards of refuse. Ala Moana dump was the main disposal
site. The report further mentions a tour of Mainland cities
by a Public Works engineer to study incineration and other
means of refuse disposal and a proposed test of ocean disposal
of refuse to be undertaken the following year.
In 1931, Ordinance 547 made extensive rules and regulations
for the collection of refuse. A distinction was made between
garbage and swill. The ordinance defined garbage as citrus
peelings, coffee grounds and fish offal. Swill was all
other animal and vegetable material remaining from the preparation
of food. No swill was to be collected by the City; swill
was collected by the Honolulu Hog Raisers Association, which
had several hundred members. The ordinance specified that
containers were to be filled only to within four inches
of the top of the container and that there were to be separate
containers for non-combustible and combustible refuse.
The separate container requirement was enacted because it
was thought that incineration would be more efficient without
non-combustibles in the refuse. More than 40 years later,
this requirement for separate containers was deleted because,
over the years, few householders complied and all refuse
went into the same truck body, anyway. There was also the
thought that non-combustibles in the refuse aided incineration
by making the fuel bed more porous.
Later Ordinances Concerning Refuse
In addition to the refuse ordinances described above, the
following is a listing of more ordinances concerning solid
Ord.No. Year Subject
Regulating time for collection of swill
Comprehensive regulations for collection and disposal
Regulating time for collection of swill
Defining who pays for collection and disposal
948 1942 Regulating
957 1942 Allowing wrapped
swill in refuse containers; $1 per month
collection charge for rented dwellings
978 1943 Setting rules to
allow persons to burn rubbish; (people
encouraged to burn)
988 1943 Rubbish
burning to be done in pits or metal drums
1021 1945 Unlawful to
dump on vacant lots; permit needed
to operate dump
1091 1947 Regulating time for collecting
1115 1948 Allowing mechanical sweepers
to move both ways
on one-way streets
1145 1949 Controlling private incineration
1156 1949 No disposal fees for residential
in during clean-up campaigns
1199 1950 Setting
disposal fees for various classes of refuse
in Honolulu District and Rural Districts
Setting various disposal fees (became law
without mayor's signature)
1251 1951 Swill time
1283 1952 Defining place of business
1292 1952 Swill time again
1478 1955 Setting residential collection
charge of $12.00/year
1479 1955 Requiring businesses,
hotels, rental units to
arrange for refuse collection
1503 1956 Regulating private refuse
collectors; permit required
for collecting swill (time restrictions repealed)
1514 1956 Permitting rooming
houses to be charged by volume
1590 1957 Additional rules for charging
of dwelling units
1716 1959 Repeal of charges for
dwelling units (became
law without mayor's signature)
1853 1960 Per-room charge
for hotels changed to $0.10/cf
2717 1965 Defining what entities
can receive collection
2720 1965 Prohibiting dumping into
watercourses and drains
3623 1970 Cleaning of
3912 1972 Prohibiting littering
of public places
4339 l974 Comprehensive updating
of refuse ordinance: eliminating private incineration,
eliminating separation of combustible from non- combustible,
setting container size, designating location for container,
categories for disposal fees, removing provisions to perform
services, eliminating regulations for swill, making
provisions to collect
from private roadways, making provision to collect bulky
provision to collect containerized refuse.
4454 1975 Authorizing
diversion of refuse from disposal site
79-16 1979 Revisions for licensing
79-32 1979 Authorizing directing
of refuse to disposal sites
80-1 1980 Increasing collection
and disposal fees
83-32 1983 Increasing collection
and disposal fees
85-90 1985 Authorizing $195 million
G.O. bonds for H-POWER
85-91 1985 Defining H-POWER as part of
86-48 1986 Providing that owners of single-
and multi-unit dwellings must
arrange for refuse collection
86-79 1986 Increasing collection and disposal
86-129 1986 Providing for more regular schedule
for bulky items
87-76 1987 Adding H-POWER site to Development
89-77 1989 Increasing collection and disposal
89-83 1989 Defining
duties of Recycling Coordinator
89-113 1989 Providing for recycling certain
materials designated by
Director of Public Works
89-114 1989 Setting recycling goals of 30%,
50% and 75%
89-115 1989 Establishing pilot recycling
program for curbside collection
89-116 1989 Establishing
10% purchase preference for recycled paper
89-117 1989 Establishing
a City government recycling program
89-118 1989 Establishing used oil recycling
89-125 1989 Establishing assessments
and incentives for glass container
89-126 1989 Banning polystyrene
foam products made with CFCs
91-60 1991 Modifying a definition
in vacant lot ordinance
92-39 1992 Use of crushed
glass in paving
92-60 1992 Allowing proceeds
from equity sale of H-POWER to lower tip
fees at H-POWER; scheduling tip fees to 1996
92-111 1992 4% surcharge on disposal
fees for recycling
92-137 1992 Waiving disposal fees for
natural and man-made disasters
93-05 1993 Allowing non-profit organizations
to collect City agency
93-19 1993 Clarifying where householder
should place refuse for collection
93-53 1993 Establishing program for
City purchase of recycled office paper
Swamps, Swamps Everywhere
Oahu, like many other oceanside communities, was ringed
with swamps and tidelands. Most of the open, undeveloped
areas indicated on the following 1906 map consisted of swampy
land. The Kaimuki area was mostly dry wilderness.
At the turn of the century, the fishponds constructed by
earlier Hawaiians were still in existence at the shoreline.
Ala Moana Boulevard was built at the shoreline, and the
broad areas on both sides of the future Kapiolani Boulevard
consisted of rice fields. Palolo Stream and Manoa Stream
did not have a definite channel to the sea; instead, the
streams just spread out in the present Date Street area
During the rainy season, Waikiki was flooded. Water from
Makiki made the Sheridan Street area great for ducks.
The dredging of harbors, offshore areas and the Ala Wai
provided fill for the reclamation of the swamps. The construction
of the Ala Wai stopped the annual flooding of Waikiki.
The residue from burned rubbish was also used to reclaim
swamps. This residue provided a fill that was quite inert
and solid. Thus, a rubbish dump was considered a cost-free
method for a landowner to reclaim swampy land. Many property
owners offered their swamps and lowlands to the City government
for reclamation via open dump burning. Not all offers were
accepted, however. The City declined sites offered when
operating problems in filling the sites were foreseen.
For example, the City more than once turned down the filling
of sites that were actually wide stream beds. Major landowners
and estates also had a practice of allowing the use of their
land for dump sites. There was no payment by the City for
the use of these dump sites. On one occasion, a landowner
inquired with the City about sharing in the fees that the
City charged to businesses that used the dumps. The City
replied that revenue sharing was not justified because the
increase in the value of the land reclaimed was sufficient
payment. The landowner did not press the inquiry.
The filling of a swamp today to enable the building of
a Waikiki or of an Ala Moana Shopping Center would be most
difficult under present environmental laws, which prohibit
the filling of wetlands unless there is no feasible alternative.
The fillings that occurred in the past were probably justified
at that time and good for the community at large. Yet,
there is a sense of loss when places like Kekona's fish
pond and Kekona's oyster pavilion, old-time gathering places,
were lost to the advancing Waipahu dump. The same practice
of filling swamps occurred in other cities, such as San
Francisco, Boston and New York.
A 1925 report described refuse disposal in this way: "The
present method of refuse disposal is by dumping same on
waste land within the city. This method has been pursued
in Honolulu for many years until now the available land
for such purpose is nearly covered. At the very longest,
from the present outlook, it is but a matter of a year or
two until either a different method must be provided or
additional lands allotted for the disposal of refuse."
The report held the hope that ocean disposal of refuse
could be successful. A recommendation was made to expend
$250 to conduct trials of dumping 10 scow loads of refuse
at sea to prove either the practicality or impracticality
of dumping at sea. But until the tests could be carried
out, the report recommended the disposal of refuse by dumping
on the shore side of Ala Moana Boulevard, Waikiki of Sheridan
Road. This dumping was the start of Ala Moana Park.
Report of 1928
A 1928 report on refuse disposal described the operation
of the Ala Moana dump. The dump was divided into two sections
-- one part for burning animals and fish waste and the other
part for burning combustible rubbish. The report recommended
spending $3,000 to reconstruct the incinerator at Keawe
Street so that the disposal of small animals and fish waste
could be removed from the Ala Moana dump.
Tests on ocean dumping were conducted with floats and refuse.
The conclusion reached was that refuse dumped 5-10 miles
southwest of the harbor would have no tendency to drift
back to shore and would probably drift clear of any portion
of the Hawaiian Islands. A recommendation was made to secure
the necessary permits for such disposal. Mr. Balch
of the Bureau of Plans toured the Mainland to study incinerators.
A tentative recommendation to construct an incinerator was
made, subject to a decision as to whether food wastes would
be incinerated. Food wastes were not collected by City
crews but by pig farmers, and the possible inclusion of
such wastes would make a difference in the incinerator's
design. The suggested site for this incinerator was the
present (l993) location of the Honolulu District refuse
collection office, near the intersection of Ilalo and Koula.
When this incinerator was actually constructed, it was built
a few hundred feet south of the initially recommended site.
The sighting of an incinerator is never certain until construction
starts, even if a site is officially designated. For example,
a 1942 map shows two other proposed sites for the wartime
Kewalo and Kapalama incinerators -- at Waialae Nui and Puuhale
Street, respectively. Further, in 1961 an 11.761- acre
site was acquired for the Waipahu incinerator at Hoaeae,
near the intersection of Farrington Highway and Kunia Road.
In 1970, land was acquired near Kapaa Quarry for an incinerator
and ash disposal. Incinerators were not built at any of
The Kewalo Shoreline
As previously mentioned, Ala Moana Boulevard was on the
former shoreline in the Kewalo area. When the Army took
over a site for Fort Armstrong in 1898, a seawall was built
to reclaim land for the fort. Then another seawall, extending
east to reclaim more land, was built. In 1930, an incinerator
was constructed on Mohala Street (now Ahui Street) near
the east end of the Fort Armstrong seawall and close to
the present John Dominis Restaurant. The incinerator cost
$140,000 and had a capacity of 80 tons per day. This incinerator
operated for two shifts a day because there was not enough
money to operate a third shift. Excess collected refuse
went to a dump in Kalihi. The incinerator, though modern
for its time, operated mostly by muscle power. Ash was
loaded into wheelbarrows and pushed uphill to a truck.
Rubbish was dumped on a floor and pushed by hand into a
trap door above the furnace. Once (around 1935), a worker
pushing rubbish fell through the trap door. Rubbish cushioned
his fall, and fellow workers quickly hauled him out through
the ash door. He suffered second-degree burns, recovered
and went back to work.
In 1933, Executive Order 577 set aside 3.005 acres for
the disposal of ash from the incinerator. This ash disposal
site was a stone's throw from the recently completed incinerator
and also included a portion of the site for the next Kewalo
incinerator. The separate sites for the two Kewalo incinerators
were covered by Executive Order 1049 in 1944. Also in 1944,
Executive Order 1051 set aside 11.31 acres of tidelands
adjoining the second Kewalo incinerator site for additional
ash disposal space. The mauka boundary of this site for
more than 1,200 feet was seawall adjoining Fort Armstrong.
From the foregoing 11.31 acres, various withdrawals were
made later. Almost two acres were withdrawn for a police
pistol range by E.O. 1065. Another acre was withdrawn in
1949 for use as a police motorpool.
Then a curious thing happened. In 1951, the Board of Supervisors
requested by Resolution 243 that the Legislature withdraw
4.073 acres from the original E.O. 1051 for use by the Fire
Department as a drill area. The Territory responded the
following year with E.O. 1500, which inexplicably said that
as requested by Resolution 243, E.O. 1051 was canceled!
As far as can be determined from records, the cancellation
In 1950, the City and Territory cooperated in building
yet another seawall to enclose another 30 acres of space
for more incinerator ash and other non-combustibles. There
was no executive order for this site. The filling of the
enclosed space behind the wall proceeded rapidly, and in
1956, the City asked the Territory whether it would pay
for the construction of still another seawall farther out
into the ocean, but still on the reef. The Territory's
reply stated that because its funds were depleted, it couldn't
make any financial commitment.
In 1959, City and State (statehood had come) officials
met to discuss the near-completion of the fill behind the
seawall. The State Land Commissioner said that the area
could be filled another six feet above the top of the seawall.
With this permission, the City continued filling. As the
height increased, the State expressed concern over the mountain
of ash which was growing so rapidly. The State finally
told the City in 1971 to stop placing any more ash at Kewalo.
Parts of the ash pile were then 25 feet above the top of
the seawall. Some people wondered what could be done with
a mountain of ash at the shoreline. An entrepreneur took
samples of the ash to find some economic use, but he could
not. In 1992, the State constructed a waterfront park on
the ash pile. The most distinctive and enjoyable parts
of the park are the steep, grassy hills of covered incinerator
ash, where the young and the young-at-heart slide down on
cardboard sleds. Didn't Hawaiian Royalty also slide downhill
on grass in years past?
Refuse Disposal In Kailua
In 1940, Castle Estate gave the City permission to establish
a dump site on Kaneohe Bay Drive. Shortly after, the Estate
also gave the Army permission to use an adjoining piece
of land for a dump site. The Army sought this site so that
it would not have to pay the City for the use of the City's
dump. The only problem for the City from the arrangement
was that, although the Army dumped rubbish on their own
site, they did not do anything to maintain it. Because
the Army's dump was a mess, the City's bulldozer was forced
to maintain the Army's dump, too. This is not to say that
the City's dump was a thing of beauty. An open burning
dump has a generic quality that is hard to control or beautify.
Some cynics say that when you've seen one dump, you've seen
them all. As the surrounding areas became more developed
with passing years, complaints mounted regarding the unsightly
dumps right on the highway.
Castle Estate again helped the City by providing a 10-acre
site in Kawainui Swamp in 1953 for the next dump. So, the
Aikahi Dump closed, and the Kawainui Dump took its place.
It was hoped that surrounding development would keep away
from this dump to allow perhaps 10 years of use. The swamp
did keep development from getting too close to the dump,
but new air pollution laws were starting to be considered
and passed. Also, as fate would have it, nearby hills in
Kailua contributed to an air inversion which trapped smoke
from the dump and channeled a stream of odors to the Kailua
community. In response to community complaints, Kawainui
became the site of the City's first landfill in 1963, after
Castle Estate gave the City the use of yet another site,
this time right across the road from the dump. Open burning
at the dump was stopped, and landfill activities alternated
between the two sites. In the meantime, the City tentatively
decided to expand its incineration program and purchased
the old Kapaa Quarry for an incinerator and ash disposal
site. However, incineration did not seem such a good idea
for an area with frequent air inversions, so in 1972, the
deep pit left at the old quarry became the site of the next
landfill. The Kapaa quarry operation had excavated rock
right up to the edge of the Pahukini Heiau. This left the
stones of the heiau wall a few feet from the edge of a crumbling,
hundred-foot cliff. The stability of the heiau was restored,
however, after the old quarry was filled with solid waste,
the cliff being replaced by gently sloping ground. The
City, Ameron HC&D (quarry operator) and community groups
then worked on programs to restore and protect the heiau,
with expertise from the Bishop Museum.
How It Was Collected
Horse-drawn wagons were first used for the collection of
refuse. Some old-timers of the Refuse Division remember
the horses being stabled in Kakaako. It is not known when
trucks displaced horses, but it is noted that in 1919 a
garbage truck was purchased for $560. By 1923, ten garbage
trucks were inventoried at a first cost of $4,500. The
vehicles were described as being Moreland trucks. A 1925
report by the City Planning Engineer stated that trucks
made four or five loads of rubbish per day. The average
load was 4,750 pounds. The report further stated that the
number of homes served on each load was approximately 20.
There must be something we don't understand about those
statistics, because this works out to an astounding 237
pounds collected from each home on each collection day.
The 1925 report stated that 105 tons of refuse was collected
daily from the City of Honolulu. An analysis of 10 loads
from various parts of the City was presented:
Glass bottles, dishes
Tin cans and other tin ware
Cast iron, auto parts
Paper, cardboard, magazines and books
Refuse from barns, chicken yards
Vegetable matter, grass
Rubber tires and tubes
Palm and banana plants
The year 1937 saw the purchase of 10 more garbage trucks.
These were of five-ton capacity, with sides that could be
raised. These trucks were typical of those which required
a kukulu man in the bed of the truck, who took great pride
in his ability to stack (kukulu) refuse high above the sides
of the truck.
In 1956, the conversion to rear-loading packer trucks was
made, and crew size was changed from four to three. Coinciding
with and to help pay for the conversion, a charge of $12.00
per year for residential refuse collection was enacted.
The Division greatly increased its clerical staff to handle
all the work involved with the new charge. Bills were sent
to every residential tax map key in the City and County
of Honolulu. This mass mailing resulted in a few unintended
billings, such as the billing to Palmyra Island (it's officially
part of the City and County). The charge for residential
collection lasted only through 1959. It was widely resisted
by householders, and collection of the charge was difficult.
A story is told regarding the repeal of the charge. It
seems that a member of the Board of Supervisors introduced
the repeal partly in jest. But once introduced, the repeal
took on a life of its own because every member of the Board
realized how unpopular the charge was. So the repeal sailed
through, no one daring to oppose it, according to the story.
To show his displeasure at this turn of events, Mayor Blaisdell
did not approve the ordinance for repeal, but allowed it
to become law without his signature.
Top-loading trucks with lifting forks to handle 3-cubic-yard
containers were added to the Division's fleet in 1963 to
service schools, public housing and parks. Private refuse
collectors had begun to use these containers and trucks
several years earlier.
Every kind of work has its own problems. Refuse collection
has its share. For example:
l. The Portlock area has many private lanes. Overgrown
hedges at the beginning of the lanes sometimes prevent trucks
from safely entering the lanes. The problem was that the
residents at the beginning of the lanes were not interested
in trimming their hedges because they were receiving refuse
collection at the front of their properties, not from the
lanes. The Division had to work through Bishop Estate to
force their lessees to trim their hedges so that residents
fronting the lanes could get collection.
2. Some residents throw dangerous chemicals into their
refuse containers. Every year, several collectors are sprayed
with liquid bleach or swimming pool acid when the packing
blade of the truck crushes the containers of liquid (liquids
are prohibited by the refuse ordinance). The same liquids,
when mixed with other household chemicals, can also release
chlorine gas. Every few years, refuse collectors are felled
by such fumes.
3. It may seem logical that householders would place their
refuse containers out for collection in front of their own
properties. However, a few householders apparently didn't
like the unsightliness of their own refuse containers, so
they placed their refuse in front of someone else's property.
In the absence of a specific law, these few householders
could not be persuaded to place their refuse in front of
their own properties. So, such a law was passed.
Need A Job?
Prior to 1938, City employees sometimes came and went with
each new administration. Chief Engineer Rush complained
that his Refuse Division head spent 30-50% of his time listening
to hard-luck stories from men seeking employment. The Chief
Engineer also stated that the Refuse Division had too many
employees and had more money for salaries than the Division
Head could possibly spend. The Chief Engineer called for
a civil service system. The Legislature passed a civil
service law in 1939.
This highlights a conflict in any bureaucracy. Long-time
section and division heads build organizations in which
they exercise considerable discretionary power. Networking
with other long-timers consolidates the power. When new
leadership above the long-timers wants to make changes,
conflicts arise. The Division Head of Refuse at this time
was part of the long-timer's network. His disciplined army
of refuse workers was a potent political force.
The approaching world war changed the excess manpower situation.
During The War
In 1941, Chief Engineer Kunesh wanted to experiment with
dumping garbage 30 miles offshore, and he felt certain that
it could be done in a way that garbage would not float back
to shore. But he faced obstacles. He was warned by the
U.S. District Engineer, and the barge company, Young Brothers,
did not want to do it. (This was not the first attempt
at ocean disposal, because some experiments with ocean disposal
were done in 1928 involving trial dumping of floats, bottles
and several hundred cubic yards of refuse. More experiments
with bottles followed in 1960.) When the commercial barge
company would not help with the experiment, Kunesh asked
the military to help with the barging. But Kunesh had to
abandon his sea dumping plan when the Army repossessed the
Kalihi-Kai dump site with short notice. The actual notice
for the repossession came in a May 1941 letter to Mayor
Lester Petrie from Hawaiian Dredging Company, Ltd. (later
Hawaiian Dredging and Construction, HD&C), which
gave a 90-day notice for cancellation of the 1930 lease,
that is, by August 1941. (An aside: It was not Honolulu
Construction and Draying, HC&D, that canceled
the lease, as reported on page 166 of Johnson's History
of the City and County of Honolulu.) Because there was
no time for experimentation with sea dumping, Kunesh made
arrangements in July 1941 for OR&L railroad cars to
haul refuse. A refuse loading facility called Kapalama
Ramp was built. On August 15, 1941, the very day that the
Kalihi-Kai dump had to be vacated, the first train load
of refuse was hauled 40 miles to Keaweula, where a temporary
dump had been established. However, in December 1941, World
War II came along with its nightly blackouts (youngsters
can ask their parents or grandparents about the blackout),
and refuse could no longer be burned at Keaweula. With
the backing of the military authorities and martial law,
a quick decision was made to dump refuse in a swampy area
adjoining the Kapalama Canal, just mauka of the OR&L
tracks. Bishop Estate objected to this dumping, but when
the City proposed to acquire the area, the Estate withdrew
its objection. The payment the City offered to Bishop Estate
for the use of the land was just $1.00 because the "burning
of all such refuse constitutes a decided improvement in
the filling of their low lands in this area." Around
September 1942, the Pahounui dump was opened, and the Kapalama
dump was closed. The records do not indicate Bishop Estates'
reaction to the loss of the "decided improvement to
their low lands." In July 1942, the dump at Keaweula
was reopened after a well was dug to provide water to extinguish
the fires each day before blackout.
An interesting labor situation occurred during World War
II. There was a great labor shortage, and many people were
imported from the Mainland for the war effort here in Hawaii.
Wages increased in war-related activities. However, persons
in certain occupations, such as refuse collection, were
frozen to their jobs by law. The reasoning of such a law
was that the war effort needed certain kinds of work done,
even if that work could not compete in wages with other
work. Therefore, some collectors deliberately did their
work poorly in an effort to get fired so that they could
get higher paying jobs in the defense industry. Many City
officials recognized the unfairness of the pay situation
for the refuse collection crews and sought ways to pay the
crews more. But the labor shortage continued, together
with disruptions in the collection schedule.
The war and labor shortage brought women into many kinds
of nontraditional work, such as manual street sweeping activities.
After the war, these ladies continued their sweeping work.
Many of the sweepers, both men and women, used old automobile
license plates as dustpans to pick up debris they had swept
into piles in the gutter. It is believed the last of the
wartime street sweeping ladies retired in the mid-1960s.
While on the subject of ladies, we will mention that the
first hiring of a woman as a refuse collector occurred in
1979. She did her work well and earned a subsequent promotion
to crew leader. She was also successful at being both "a
lady" and "one of the guys."
In 1942, the Federal Works Administration approved
$313,000 for the construction of a new incinerator in Kalihi.
The money was approved as part of the war effort because
of the great wartime influx of population into Honolulu,
which caused a corresponding increase in the amount of refuse.
This incinerator was built on Kokea Street in Kalihi. Money
for a second incinerator was also appropriated to serve
the eastern part of the city, but the NIMBY (Not In My Back
Yard) syndrome was alive and well. The daily newspapers
had more than 50 articles during that 1942-1943 period relating
to the siting of this incinerator. The articles showed
how the incinerator site retreated from community to community,
starting in the east and continuing westward, until it finally
ended up only two miles from the western incinerator. The
two incinerators, called the Kapalama and the Kewalo incinerators,
were finished just after World War II. The 200-ton incinerators
were twins and differed only in the curvature of their approach
ramps. In the early 1960s both incinerators were renovated.
Automatic stokers and water scrubbers were installed. During
the renovation, refuse was diverted to a new landfill at
the Koko Head Firing Range, located in Kahauloa Crater near
the Blow Hole. A feature of this landfill was the use of
water pumped from the ocean to aid in compaction of the
refuse. Refuse was also diverted to the Navy landfill at
Pearl City. In 1974, a large hopper was constructed at
the Kewalo incinerator to load transfer trailers so that
excess refuse could be sent to rural disposal facilities.
The Kewalo and Kapalama incinerators were shut down in 1977
because they could not meet the ever-increasing air pollution
standards. Refuse trucks, which had been unloading at the
Kewalo and Kapalama incinerators, were directed to the new
Keehi Transfer Station, which in turn sent its refuse to
the Waipahu Incinerator.
Soul-Searching Site Searches
For some reason, the search for refuse disposal sites is
a soul-searching experience for proponents and opponents.
Just about every site selected for a refuse facility has
faced controversy in the form of organized opposition.
One prominent opponent was asked, "What are you objecting
to -- an actual detrimental result or just the word rubbish?"
"Both," was the reply.
Before the 1930 incinerator was constructed, opponents
stated that the Kapalama area was the natural location for
canneries, oil stations, gas works and incinerators of garbage.
After the 1930 incinerator was constructed on Ahui Street,
the Star-Bulletin named it "Swillauea" and lamented,
". . .Oh Swillauea-by-the-Sea . . . a monument to despair,
foolishness and ugliness . . . all the king's horses and
all the king's men couldn't find another place to burn the
City's rubbish except in the City's front yard . . . ."
It must have been a cruel blow to opponents of the Ahui
Street site to have another even larger incinerator constructed
just one block away on Ohe Street during World War II.
In 1960, the search was on for another incinerator site.
A site at the National Guard firing range in Kuliouou Valley
was acceptable to the Guard, but was shot down by the State
Commissioner of Public Lands, which planned to subdivide
and sell the land for houses. Passing thoughts of Diamond
Head Crater got to the point of the exchange of a few letters,
but otherwise remained passing thoughts. Still grasping
at straws, the Refuse Division asked the University of Hawaii
if they would like their quarry filled with rubbish; they
didn't. The Division got a similar response when they inquired
about constructing the Magic Island fill with rubbish.
Out of the blue, Henry J. Kaiser offered an incinerator
site in the budding Hawaii-Kai development. While astounded
City officials pondered his offer, Kaiser just as suddenly
changed his mind. It is felt that the change came when
Kaiser discovered he didn't need noxious industry zoning
to operate a temporary rock crusher for the Hawaii-Kai development.
After much turmoil with the surrounding community, the next
incinerator was finally constructed in Waipahu.
Old Stoves, Refrigerators, Sofas
Before 1960, the Outdoor Circle wrote an annual letter
to the City to ask for a city-wide bulky item pickup. Because
the public response to this annual event was so great, it
was decided in the mid-1960s not to have an annual event
but to make this service available on a year 'round basis.
Ukupau is very much a part of the history of the Refuse
Division. In Hawaiian, "uku" means money and
"pau" means finish. Thus, ukupau refers to the
system in which a person is paid for finishing a certain
task; uku pau is also written as two separate words. Task
work has always been a part of refuse collection operations
in Honolulu. Old timers report how work sometimes extended
from morning 'till past sundown -- all without extra compensation.
In the late 1960s, a group of refuse collectors presented
a list of "demands" to Mayor Neal Blaisdell.
Mayor Blaisdell approved the whole list and left it to the
Refuse Division to carry out the demands. The setting down
of the demands into clear language was the first written
policy concerning certain aspects of task work. With the
advent of collective bargaining this written policy was
reworked and, after nearly two years of discussions between
Refuse Division management and representatives of the refuse
collectors, incorporated into a task work policy dated December
13, 1973. One of the main provisions of the policy states
that the geographical area that a crew is responsible to
collect from each day is set from the previous year's records
to contain 24,000 pounds of refuse for the first collection
of the week. The crew is finished with its work for the
day when it has finished collection of its geographical
During the 30-year period beginning in 1960, refuse
operations had about half a dozen work stoppages which resulted
in interruptions of normal refuse collection. The work
stoppages were wildcat mini-strikes, usually limited to
a specific collection yard because of a disagreement. Typical
disagreements could be how work is assigned, how holiday
pay is calculated and how much work is to be performed.
The mini-strikes lasted one to three days, during which
the employee union disclaimed knowledge and involvement.
On other occasions employees resorted to slowdown tactics,
such as sick-outs and refusal to accept overtime and temporary
assignments. In general, these work stoppages were successful
for the employees because they brought a rapid resolution
of the problems without any punitive consequences for employees.
There was only one strike which stopped both collection
and disposal operations. This was a State-wide, legal strike
of all Unit One members of the United Public Workers, the
exclusive bargaining agent for all blue-collar employees,
from October 22, 1979, to December 2, 1979. Although all
normal refuse collection and disposal activities of the
City stopped, the following helped Honolulu cope with the
situation remarkably well:
1. The City's landfills at Kapaa, Waianae and Kawailoa
were left open for thousands of householders who brought
in their own refuse. Management employees directed traffic
and dumping in the landfills. Picketers at landfill entrances
delayed householders during the first week of the strike,
but after the first week, picketers did not delay householders.
Indeed, the first order of the daily routine for many picketers
was to bring in their own household refuse.
2. Available space at landfills was quickly used up, but
fires (probably maliciously set) reduced the volume of refuse.
More refuse could then be dumped, and the fires changed
from being a catastrophe to the main factor in helping the
City cope with the continuous stream of incoming refuse.
In spite of the natural tensions of a strike, good humor
was maintained by all. "Come again," householders
were told after they finished dumping.
3. Private refuse collection continued during the strike
to service the business and high-rise community. It was
important that the private collectors had the use of the
private landfill at Palailai for disposal.
4. Householders found ways of disposing of their refuse.
Some volunteered to take neighbors' refuse to the landfill.
Some sneaked their refuse into business dumpsters. Entrepreneurs
collected householders' refuse for $0.50 a bag under the
scrutiny of suspicious picketers.
A portion of the legal maneuvering during the strike involved
the declaration of a health emergency. The State law that
governs public employee strikes gave the court authority
to order certain strikers back to work if the State Department
of Health found that public health was adversely affected.
The Health Department made no such finding during the strike.
A facet of strikes and work stoppages by refuse collectors
is that they are able to recover a portion of their lost
wages when they resume work and pick up the uncollected
refuse. How much pay they are able to recover is determined
by how good a "deal" they are able to arrange
for removing the uncollected refuse.
A Colorful Superintendent
Just as the history of the Board of Water Supply is dominated
by the name Fred Ohrt, the history of the Refuse Division
must make mention of Llewelyn H. L. "Sonny" Hart.
When Hart, who must be termed colorful in every sense of
the word, was first appointed Division Head in 1935 (he
had been associated with refuse since 1931), he joined a
refuse collection crew to participate in its work.
In that way, he later explained, no one could deceive him
in describing how easy or how hard the work was. He
ruled with an iron fist, but yet stories abound of how workers
who were in financial need could count on him for a small
loan. He'd arm wrestle wayward workers who disputed
his leadership. He always won. He made frequent
inspections of field operations at the wheel of a Packard
convertible, and topped off his business suits with a stylish
hat. Another of the colorful details of his administration
involved the use of one-way glass for his office, which
encouraged his office staff to keep busy. The public was
supposed to turn in all gas masks at the end of World War
II, but for some unknown reason he kept a gas mask hanging
in the corner of his office on a hat rack.
Well-publicized controversy came to him when at various
times he was accused of purchasing irregularities, conflict
of interest in business and giving preferential treatment
to a private collector. He was fired in 1961 after 30 years
in the Refuse Division, but maintained his dignity and sense
of humor in spite of it.
We will editorialize that the firing of Hart emphasizes
that solid waste management is a major function involving
big money. Opportunities exist for employees at different
levels to engage in big or small schemes to enrich themselves
or their friends. The safeguard is constant vigilance,
awareness and a pervasive atmosphere of integrity.
Other superintendents (also called directors and chiefs
at other times) of the Refuse Division were:
Harry C. Finley
James M. Veary Jan. 1969
William Spencer, Jr.
Frank J. Doyle
At various times when there was no permanent superintendent,
Robert Young filled in on an acting basis for periods of
a few months to a few years. His first fill-in occurred
while he was still a Bureau of Plans engineer.
The Engineers Arrive
In 1959, a Bureau of Plans engineer was assigned to assist
the Refuse Division with division needs on a part-time basis.
One of the first needs was to prepare for the end of open
dump burning because of new air pollution regulations.
Since that time, there has been a gradual increase in the
engineering staff to take care of technical, management
and environmental concerns, with most of the increase occurring
under Division Chief Doyle. The Refuse Division today has
eight engineers on its staff.
Illegal dumping of rubbish has always been a problem.
Perhaps such dumping is a carryover from the days when people
were fewer and stretches of waste land were many. Even
the government sometimes participates in illegal dumping;
in 1945, the U.S. Army admitted that their trucks had for
a time improperly dumped their rubbish near Kuapa Pond,
and they subsequently cleaned up the area.
During the 1960s, the Refuse Division caught two companies
dumping illegally and prosecuted them. The first company,
a tree trimmer, was found not guilty of dumping rubbish
when the judge reasoned that the coconut fronds that were
dumped were not rubbish because such fronds had value and
usefulness as decorations at luaus. The second company,
a demolition contractor, was found not guilty because (1)
the case was tried in the wrong court and (2) the City did
not establish the exact title of the person being prosecuted
in the company whose truck did the dumping.
In an attempt to control illegal dumping by householders,
the City cooperated with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service
in constructing the City's first refuse convenience center.
The center was constructed as part of the 1986 Soil Conservation
Service project in Waimanalo in the vicinity of several
continually littered sites. The convenience center became
very successful in attracting large quantities of rubbish
from householders. Because of popular demand, similar convenience
centers were built in Waipahu, Ewa Beach, Waianae, Laie
and Wahiawa. Householders could also dump their excess
rubbish at the City's transfer stations at Kawailoa and
One member of the Refuse Division administrative staff,
encouraged by Mayor Frank F. Fasi's permission to try new
things, decided to sing about solid waste. Inherent in
his decision was his opinion that actual musical ability,
though desirable, was not necessary. He included local
environmental issues of the day into a 1969 song.
The issues were:
The proposed filing of Kawainui Swamp for a housing
The proposed removal of a banyan tree for a widening
of King Street.
The proposed building of off-shore islands to link
The words to the song, first performed during a talk at
the Engineering Association as he accompanied himself with
a guitar were:
Whenever people work or play, there's one result I'm
A pile of rubbish no one wants.
The problem has no cure. The problem has no cure.
The rubbish pile grows ever high, how can we end this
Pounds per capita is five, next year it will be
Incineration is supreme; no landfill is the way.
Yet others still want composting. The best?
Who but God can say.
The best? Who but God can say.
An engineer then voiced a plan -- small islands we can
Of solid wastes. Alas! Alack! His
words the surfers stilled.
His words the surfers stilled.
Here's a likely landfill site, this swamp just fills
But where will wild ducks nest their young? These
birds we must not kill.
These birds we must not kill.
Well, how about this lonely gulch, no birds are there
I'm sorry I forgot it's home to sacred banyan tree,
To sacred banyan trees.
So now my plaintive song does end, wastes spreading
by the ton.
Mankind is doomed, unless perchance, recycling all things
Recycling all things is done.
Note that even at that time recycling was on the minds
of solid waste managers. The song was performed on
the Mainland, on TV, at conferences, in classrooms -- wherever
captive audiences were assembled.
A few years later another song was written, partly in response
to a folk singer's song about engineers who paved over grass
and partly to express the frustration of trying to find
sites for solid wastes facilities:
See the people living off the fat of the land,
Producing goods for sale by the lot,
Two shiny cars are sitting in every garage
While the countryside is going to pot.
For the rubbish produced by prosperity
Piles up in quantities to astound.
Some is buried, some is burned, some is smashed into
But a portion remains to confound.
County officials meet the problem head-on
And make a master plan that will lay
A portion in swamps, a gulch and a reef,
And the people respond as they say.
Don't put your junk over here,
Solid waste we despise and fear.
Open space, trees and wild birds, too.
These are the things we want from you.
So parks are built with trees so green for all to enjoy,
And eagles soar majestically high.
Scenic vistas are preserved that we may behold
The grandeur of the earth and the sky.
But where are the ones for whom trees are so green,
To whom scenic views do belong?
They lie buried under stacks of the world's discarded
And from the depths still echo lyrics of their song.
The Refuse Division staff also made liberal use of the
Sesame Street song, "I Love Trash," on occasions
such as the 1,000,000th ton H-POWER celebration and the
Division's move from the 14th floor to the 6th floor of
the Honolulu Municipal Building in 1992.
And this was the song sung by half a dozen Refuse Division
troubadours as a yellow refuse truck carrying the 2,000,000th
ton of refuse processed at H-POWER rolled toward the facility
Here she comes, two million solid tons,
Golden hue, a reminder of all that's true.
Here she comes, stand up and cheer,
Enter! Welcome! Dump your trash right here.
The Role Of Fire
The original purpose of burning refuse was to reduce its
overall volume. A secondary purpose was for sanitation.
Today, there is the added purpose of recovering energy in
an energy-hungry world. In old Hawaii, what little waste
there was organic and therefore could be burned when no
longer needed. Organic material could also be put into
fields for micro-organisms to consume and enrich the soil.
Whether burned with flames or consumed by micro-organisms,
the oxidation of organic matter is part of Earth's continuous
cycles in the use of carbon, water, nitrogen and other components
of organic matter. The coming of Captain Cook brought noncombustibles
to Hawaii in the form of metal and glass, and also brought
the technology to make brick and concrete from local materials.
Noncombustibles meant more residue after burning.
The garbage crematorium, the two Kewalo incinerators, the
Kapalama incinerator and the Waipahu incinerator all used
fire. "High-tech" burning of refuse occurs at
H-POWER, where grinders, magnets and screens transform the
incoming refuse into fuel. Scrubbers and electrostatic
precipitators clean gaseous emissions. All emissions and
ash meet State and Federal standards. Fire also has a role
at the Kapaa landfill, where collected methane is burned
in a gas turbine to produce electricity and heat.
The Refuse Division looked into other technologies involving
heat for the processing of refuse. In the early 1960's
there was Mainland technology for burying refuse and then
burning it very slowly underground. The idea did not appeal
to the Division staff member who visited the experimental
site. Fluid bed burning seemed to have some technical advantages,
but although fluid beds are used for burning coal, not much
has been done to use it for burning refuse. Various types
of partial combustion and pyrolysis technologies to produce
feedstock for industrial processes showed promise for a
while. But the Division felt it could not afford to be
the first to try out the new technologies, and waited for
others to use and perfect the new methods. Another of the
new methods was the use of very high temperatures to melt
all residues from incineration. The melted residue from
such a slagging incinerator looks like bits of black glass;
however, we know of no one who has gone into this technology.
Fire also has a negative role. At landfills, all efforts
are made to prevent the rubbish from catching fire. In
the early years of land filling in Honolulu, there were
several severe fires at City landfills. Water does little
to put out an underground fire -- only a thick blanket of
dirt to cut off air to the fire seems to work. How do the
fires start? Discarding a lighted cigarette will do it.
Fires caused by spontaneous combustion have also occurred
at various refuse facilities. It may be hard to imagine,
but there have even been householders who have brought hibachis
with burning coals to dump at the landfill. All such fires
are serious, dangerous and costly events. One fire was
particularly embarrassing. During one field inspection
trip of top Department and Division officials, the bulldozer
operator at the Kawailoa dump was instructed by officials
on a new technique of operating the bulldozer at the dump.
"Run the 'dozer right through the hot ashes,"
he was told. He followed instructions, the bulldozer caught
fire, the operator jumped off, and everyone watched the
flames engulf the bulldozer. Luckily, only the wiring and
hoses of the bulldozer were damaged.
Lost And Found
Honolulu's refuse operations must certainly be typical
of other cities' operations in having items of value inadvertently
thrown away. The item of greatest value reported to have
been mistakenly discarded was several million dollars worth
of negotiable securities by a financial institution in the
1980s. Several days of digging with a bulldozer and searching
by a group of people could not locate the securities. The
securities are presumed to be still at the Kapaa landfill,
but now under a hundred feet of rubbish. A few events with
happy endings occurred when householders called very soon
after they realized that their items were thrown away.
If the item was still in the truck, chances of recovery
were good. In the days when most residential trucks unloaded
at dumps rather than transfer stations, items could be recovered
after unloading because the landfill attendant had a pretty
good idea where the truck from a certain community had dumped
its load. When searching through a pile of rubbish, the
householder must decide whether he will accept the help
of strangers in his search. In one particular search at
the Kapaa landfill for several thousand dollars discarded
in a folded newspaper, this writer participated in the search
but had the impression that there were too many strangers
assisting. No recovery was made that time, at least for
the owner. A wholesale jeweler who hid his diamonds in
a wastebasket (guess what happened) was told that his particular
refuse had been incinerated at the Kewalo incinerator.
He insisted on trying to locate the diamonds in the ash,
but one look at incinerator ash convinced him that he could
have been looking right at his diamonds without distinguishing
them from the countless bits of broken glass in the ash.
Items mistakenly discarded and later found by refuse employees
in the rubbish bring up the question of ownership. The
law provides that any person finding an item of value anywhere
must deliver it to the Chief of Police. If the owner of
the item does not claim it within 45 days, the finder may
claim it. The largest sum found by refuse collectors was
$15,000 collected for a judo tournament in 1991. The money
was in a briefcase which was left next to a rubbish can.
Collectors took both the rubbish and the briefcase. They
happened to look inside the briefcase and thought that it
was their lucky day. But police tracked down the crew and
informed them that it was definitely not their lucky day.
In response to this event, the Division issued a memo to
inform its employees of the requirements of the law. But
there is little doubt that "finders keepers" is
still practiced with items of lesser value.
Closely related to items of value mistakenly discarded
are items of value intentionally thrown away. "One
person's junk is another person's treasure" is absolutely
true. Members of the general public do not have legal access
to any of the discarded treasure which they may see sitting
on the curbside for collection because the City refuse collection
ordinance prohibits the public from touching the rubbish.
Two reasons for this prohibition are to prevent liability
for injuries and to prevent scattering of rubbish. But
refuse collection crews have been cleared by a City legal
opinion to take items from the rubbish they collect. The
rationale for this opinion was that since collection crews
work on an ukupau (task work) basis, any extra time they
may use in saving an item does not detract from their work.
Thus, when prices for recyclables (newspaper, glass, aluminum,
cloth) are high enough, a few crews may take the time to
recover these items. Household items may also be recovered;
one collector, who also worked on the collection of bulky
items, stated that he furnished his whole house with discarded
In the past, before say 1970, scavenging at open burning
dumps and landfills was pretty much a wide open affair.
Members of the public were there to search through each
arriving truck's load. We have all heard of how some people
in Third-World countries make their living amid the garbage
of others, but it was no different here in the Paradise
of the Pacific. One could not view the scene of people
sifting through mounds of refuse for food or pieces of copper
wire without feeling some sadness. The closest thing we
have to that situation today are the people who dig through
street litter containers near lunch wagons for their next
meal. But the Division felt that the situation with scavengers
at the open dumps and landfills was not good because of
the danger from fires, trucks and bulldozers. So the Division
kept the scavengers out, only to find that they waited outside
the dump until Division employees went home. Then the scavengers
entered to begin their search. Unopened airline meals were
a special prize. Control of the scavengers was difficult.
On one occasion at the Waipahu dump, a scavenger fell through
a surface crust of dirt into an underground pit of smoldering
roofing material. He quickly pulled himself out, but died
soon after. Through continuous vigilance, the Division
stopped the activities of scavengers.
The use of a refuse collection truck equipped with
a mechanical arm and grabber to collect refuse placed at
curbside in standardized containers is called automated
collection. Crew size is reduced from three to one. In
February 1986, the Division sent its Refuse Collection Administrator
and a few other key employees to see how automated collection
was being done in Sacramento, Phoenix and Beverly Hills.
Based on their findings, the City made plans to initiate
such a system. The two biggest reasons for proceeding were
reports of large decreases in work injuries and overwhelming
public acceptance of such systems. After working through
transitional issues with the employee union, the first automated
routes were initiated in March 1992 in Village Park, Royal
Kunia, Kapolei, and Soda Creek. An expansion to Pacific
Palisades came in September 1992. As on the Mainland, the
automated system received overwhelming approval from householders.
At the time of this writing, plans for further expansion
were being worked out with the employee union.
When certain microorganisms feed on organic matter in the
absence of air, one of the products produced is methane.
A decision to utilize this combustible gas at the Kapaa
landfill was made in 1983. A request for proposals was
issued for a contractor to pay for installation of all equipment
and for the City and Castle Estate (which owns a portion
of the Kapaa landfill) to receive shares of the revenues.
The selected contractor installed the equipment, and in
September 1990, the first royalty check was received by
the City as its share of the revenues from the electricity
produced by the 3.5 megawatt gas turbine-generator. Waste
heat from the turbine dries washed rock at the adjacent
quarry. Plans to expand the collection of methane to the
nearby Kalaheo landfill are being made.
Decisions On Disposal
In 1960, the Division made its last attempt to investigate
ocean disposal of refuse. Applicable laws were checked,
and wind and ocean currents were evaluated. Batches of
several hundred floating bottles were deposited in the ocean
during kona weather. The notes in many bottles were returned.
One was returned by an obviously poor person in the Philippines
who hoped for a large reward. Unfortunately, the reward
was only one dollar. Another note was returned by a Japanese
weather technician on Marcus Island who said that finding
the bottle was a bit of happiness in his lonely life on
the island. The investigation concluded the although ocean
disposal was possible, there were too many uncertainties
to make ocean disposal of refuse feasible. With the tide
turned against the filling of offshore land and other wetlands,
and realizing the difficulty of continuing a sanitary landfill
program indefinitely, the Refuse Division began in the 1960s
to seek alternate refuse disposal solutions. A review of
the literature on composting was done in January 1955, but
composting remained in the background because of the lack
of a defined market and because of well-publicized failures
of major municipal composting ventures on the Mainland.
The chart on the following page shows an attempt to sketch
out a disposal plan for Honolulu in 1968.Only incineration
appeared to have long-term reliability, so the Waipahu incinerator
was constructed in 1970. Serious consideration was given
to shredding to reduce volume and as a first step in materials
recovery. An effort from 1972 to 1985 to place high density
bales of refuse in Keehi Lagoon ended with the conclusion
that it was too difficult environmentally. Evaluations
of pyrolysis to produce a gaseous fuel via Union Carbide's
"Purox" process ended when Union Carbide ended
their efforts. The production of methanol, ethanol and
ammonia from waste was proposed by entrepreneurs, but the
processes did not move much beyond the laboratory. Reliability
and cost were prime criteria in the Division's search for
A 1977 consultant study found resource recovery (waste-to-energy
through combustion) a feasible alternative for Honolulu.
In 1980, Honolulu Resource Recovery Venture (HRRV), turned
in the low bid for the first H-POWER (Honolulu Program of
Waste Energy Recovery) project and proposed to design, construct
and operate the resource recovery facility next to the Oahu
Sugar Mill in Waipahu. However, the Waipahu community protested
the project in their neighborhood, and a newly elected mayor
chose not to proceed with the project. The project was
later re-bid, and in December 1983 Honolulu Resource Recovery
Venture (HRRV) submitted the only bid for the l,800-ton-per-day
facility. An unsuccessful suit was filed by a company seeking
to block the award. Following further reviews by the City
Council and the Administration, and the sale of bonds, groundbreaking
was held in December 1985. However, construction was slowed
when EPA reversed their prior decision on the air permit.
When the City finally agreed to install scrubbers, a revised
air permit was issued, and construction resumed in January
1988. In November 1989, the facility was sold to Ford Motor
Credit Corporation. In the equity sale/ lease-back arrangement,
Ford gained tax credits and the City gained $80 million.
Regular delivery of refuse to H-POWER started in December
1989. The facility extracts ferrous and nonferrous metals
and produces about 6% of Oahu's electricity. HRRV, which
originally was a joint venture of Combustion Engineering
and AMFAC, became associated for a time with Asea Brown
Boveri, and is now affiliated with Ogden Martin.
Materials with direct economic value have been recycled
for a long time. But the recycling of low-value materials
has always been a problem because the additional collection
and separation costs of the materials outweighed the value
of the materials to a manufacturer. Yet, the Division knew
philosophically that recycling represented the ultimate
in solid waste management if the needs of future generations
were to be met. In 1974, the Division started a curbside
collection program for newspaper for 1,700 homes in Hawaii-Kai.
The program was not successful in that, even with much publicity,
only 7% of households participated. The program was terminated
after three months.
In 1988, the Division contracted for a study of the feasibility
of recycling, and then requested funds to hire a Recycling
Coordinator. The hiring of the Coordinator was delayed
for several months because at the time of her interview,
the impending birth of her baby was noted by the interviewers,
who tried not to stare at the obvious. When the Coordinator
finally started work in December 1989, it was the catalyst
for the start of the City's recycling programs.
One of the programs was a pilot program for the curbside
collection of recyclables in the Kailua and Kaneohe areas.
The pilot program used several different methods of collection
in different areas. After the first year, the Division
decided not to extend the program because the higher costs
of the prices bid for the second year indicated that an
entirely new method had to be used if the program was to
be expanded to the whole island on a cost-effective basis.
The Division faced criticism for its cancellation of the
curbside program. But the passing of the years has shown
that the Division's direction of putting its limited funds
into programs that produce more results was the proper one.
One such effective program was the school/community recycling
program in which the community brings aluminum, glass, plastic
bottles and paper to sectionalized roll-off containers at
schools. The school receives the income from the sale of
the materials, while the City pays for the lease and haul
of the container. At this date (1993), there are 52 sites
island-wide for the containers.
The Refuse Division's latest (1993) annual report is included
in the Appendix to give an idea of what's what presently.
From the writer's point of view, the expansion of automated
collection is the major effort in collection presently.
In the business office, the major decision will be whether
residential user fees or the more difficult quantity-based
user fees will be charged. In disposal, all-out efforts
to prolong landfill life will continue, primarily by means
of recycling large-quantity materials. Research is underway
to find a beneficial use for H-POWER ash and residue which,
if successful, will greatly increase landfill life. Other
"high tech" opportunities in recycling are the
production of activated carbon and the production of ethyl
alcohol via recombinant DNA to increase yields with simple
raw materials. If source reduction and recycling efforts
are not successful in greatly reducing the quantities of
solid waste produced, additional processing capacity via
H-POWER or the Waipahu incinerator must be considered.
More remains to be done in the management of the vast quantities
of construction and demolition debris. There seems to be
no way to escape the periodic need for new landfills. The
whole effort for solid waste management can be summed up
by the commandment, "Prolong landfill life."
Acknowledgments, Announcements and Disclaimer*
This history was complied by Robert Young, Assistant Chief
of the Division of Refuse Collection and Disposal, who started
working with garbage just before the end of the Hart Era.
The history concerning the early County government came
not from Young's recollections but from University of Hawaii
Donald Johnson's History of the City and County of Honolulu.
Professor Emeritus Johnson died on December 25, 1993, which
was during the period this was being compiled. Other sources
used were government reports, such as Public Works annual
reports, Land Division files and newspaper articles.
*Young estimates this History is 98% accurate and wishes
he knew which 2% is not.