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June 2007

Waste Management recovers metal from Hawaiian landfill

Dave Fuiave, site manager at Waimanalo Gulch; Mayor Mufi Hannemann, and Russell Nanod, community affairs manager for Waste Management of Hawaii.

A 60-day pilot program at the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill on the island of O’ahu in Hawaii is recovering ferrous metal to the tune of 22 1/2 tons per week, according to Russell Nanod, community affairs officer for Waste Management (WM) in Hawaii.

“We’ve been working on this for several months,” Nanod said. WM was first approached by Mufi Hannemann. mayor of the city and county of Honolulu, who suggested reclaiming the metal that was being sent to the landfill in the waste stream.

Based on a recent waste composition study, Hannemann estimated that there was between 15 and 25 percent metal in the trash sent to the landfill. WM was skeptical, but agreed to set up a pilot program. “Removing it from the landfill is a good thing,” Nanod said, “and recycling it is a better thing.”

The 60-day trial began on April 6. Only 10 tons of metal was recovered that first week, “because we had to learn how to operate this thing,” Nanod said with a laugh. The equipment and the process were new for everyone.

The electromagnet used to recover the metal is rented from a local company, retrofitted for use on WM’s equipment. Schnitzer Steel, which buys and recycles the recovered metal, is also providing the containers for metal collection.

In many cities, metal is reclaimed before it ever gets to the landfills, but that isn’t the case for many areas of Hawaii. In the city of Honolulu, the waste transfer stations have enough space to sort materials destined for the landfill, but “most of the transfer stations, they don’t have that capability,” Nanod said.

Whether WM’s metal reclamation venture will be profitable or not, Nanod said, “It’s too early to tell.” Besides the $2,000 per month rental fee for the electromagnet, there are costs for additional man-hours and fuel. But the key message, according to Nanod, is to do something to help the environment, “even if it’s break-even.”

Cost isn’t the only issue when it comes to Hawaiian recycling. There are only three landfills in the state, and it’s only a matter of time until space runs out. The Waimanalo Gulch Landfill has a 200-acre footprint and is currently using just over 100 acres. The permits for the site expire in May, 2008, and WM is seeking to use the remaining space, which Nanod estimates would let it operate for another 15 years.

Hawaiian trash isn’t all sent directly to landfills; a portion of it is burned at the H-Power garbage-to-energy plant. In the process, glass and metal are recovered for recycling, The H-Power plant burns about 650,000 tons of waste per year, which is converted to electricity. Afterward, about 100,000 tons of ash remains, which is sent to the landfill. The plant is operating at capacity, which isn’t keeping up with the 1.7 million tons of trash being generated.

Hawaii is one of the few states that doesn’t ship municipal waste to other states, but that might change – and perhaps soon. A Seattle-based waste company has proposed shipping municipal waste to the mainland by this summer, and city council members are interested. While it would solve the problem of shrinking landfill space, the mayor pointed out that it would also deprive H-Power of an important fuel source.

Nanod said that at some recent WM meetings he attended, the pilot metal reclamation project was one of the things often discussed. He said, “Waste Management is taking a look at this – ‘is this something we should be implementing elsewhere?’”

Mayor Hannemann is more openly optimistic. In a news release, he said, “If this pilot project works the way we expect, this will become a permanent program.”


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