Garbage In Paradise: A History of Honolulu's Refuse Division


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 college.

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 1900.

In 1905, garbage removal was one of only six items appearing in the County of Oahu's monthly operating expenses:

Police $7,500
Fire $4,000
Garbage Removal $3,000
Electric Light Plant $1,500
Parks  $1,000
Band  $1,250


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.

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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 

  1. Regulating curbs and sidewalks
  2. Regulating the establishment of cemeteries
  3. Laundries not to spray clothes by mouth
  4. Unlawful to barricade gambling places
  5. Registration of motor vehicles
  6. Permit required for hunting with gun
  7. No motor vehicles allowed on Tantalus Rd
  8. No transport of swill 9am to 5pm and 9pm to 5am
  9. Regulating awnings over public sidewalks
  10. No motor vehicle operators under age 15
  11. 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:

Ord. No. Year Time Prohibited
592 1933 9 am to 5 pm  and  9 pm to 4 am
780 1939 10 am to 5 pm  and  9 pm to 4:30 am
1091 1947 10 am to 5 pm in most of downtown &  Kaimuki
1251 1951 10 am changed to 11 am
1292 1952 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.

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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.

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Later Ordinances Concerning Refuse

In addition to the refuse ordinances described above, the following is a listing of more ordinances concerning solid waste.

Ord.No.  Year   Subject

592        1933   Regulating time for collection of swill

728        1937   Comprehensive regulations for collection and disposal

780        1939   Regulating time for collection of swill

916        1941   Defining who pays for collection and disposal

948        1942   Regulating private collectors

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 swill

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 rubbish brought

                        in during clean-up campaigns

1199       1950   Setting disposal fees for various classes of refuse

                        in Honolulu District and Rural Districts

1238       1951   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 vacant lots

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,                         eliminating categories for disposal fees, removing provisions to perform                         special services, eliminating regulations for swill, making provisions to                         collect from private roadways, making provision to collect bulky items,                         making provision to collect containerized refuse.

4454       1975   Authorizing diversion of refuse from disposal site 

79-16      1979   Revisions for licensing private collectors

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 City-wide system

86-48      1986   Providing that owners of single- and multi-unit dwellings must

                        arrange for refuse collection 

86-79      1986   Increasing collection and disposal fees

86-129    1986   Providing for more regular schedule for bulky items

87-76      1987   Adding H-POWER site to Development Plan

89-77      1989   Increasing collection and disposal fees

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 program

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

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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.

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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 these locations. 

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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 stood. 

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?

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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.

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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                                        2.7 percent

Tin cans and other tin ware                                6.5

Cast iron, auto parts                                         3.6

Paper, cardboard, magazines and books          36.9

Rags, clothing                                                 2.4

Wood, boxes                                                   9.2

Excelsior, straw                                               1.3

Refuse from barns, chicken yards                      0.9

Bones                                                             0.3

Vegetable matter, grass                                  10.1

Shoes, leather                                                 0.8

Rubber tires and tubes                                     0.7

Mattresses, linoleum                                        0.6

Palm and banana plants                                 17.7

Ashes, sweepings                                           6.3

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Task Work

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 area.

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Work Stoppages

 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.

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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               Nov. 1961

   James M. Veary             Jan. 1969

   Herbert Minakami           Jan. 1973

   William Spencer, Jr.       Mar. 1976

   Frank J. Doyle                Jun. 1977

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.

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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.

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Illegal Dumping

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 Kapaa.

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Trashy Songs

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 development.

  • The proposed removal of a banyan tree for a widening of King Street.

  • The proposed building of off-shore islands to link highway bridges.

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 sure, 

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 fix.

Pounds per capita is five, next year it will be  six.

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 build

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 the bill.

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 nor bees.

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 is done,

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 dust,

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 wastes,

And from the depths still echo lyrics of their song.  Chorus.

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 in 1993:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 items. 

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.

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Automated Collection

 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.

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Landfill Gas

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.

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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 disposal methods.

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.

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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.

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Present Status

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."

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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. 

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*Young estimates this History is 98% accurate and wishes he knew which 2% is not.

© 2005 City & County of Honolulu's Department of Environmental Services.