The Future of Pu`u Opala
By Glenn I. Teves, UH County Extension Agent
We have the beginnings of new mountain range forming on the south side of Molokai. Pu`u Opala or Garbage Mountain is composed mostly of our rubbish with some soil added for stability. Already several stories high, who knows how high it will be when it finally goes dormant. The question is how many more mountains will be formed in the process to add to the South Molokai mountains? That decision lies mostly with us, the creators of this mountain.
There are ways to slow the growth of the mountain, including recycling to minimize what is being thrown away, hauling the green waste out of the land fill, and finding value in the things that we throw away. Bicycles, washing machines, lawnmowers and other products can be rebuilt instead of buying new ones. But we’ve turned into the throw-away generation, and lost the skills that our forefathers once had to maintain, repair, rebuild, and make do with what we have, and even build things with recycled materials and engines.
Our junk cars are being hauled away and processed for shipment to off-island markets, and ultimately sold to China for some cold cash. One person’s rubbish is another person’s gold. Molokai must be one of the only islands without an automobile junkyard where parts could be recycled. The older cars are made with a quality of metal that is almost impossible to find today. Without the ability to recycle auto parts, we’re forced to buy parts of an inferior quality in metal and workmanship.
Today, we have more options than we realize, but it won’t happen if we’re complacent and satisfied by creating additional mountains. There are cutting-edge technologies of taking all our waste, burning it in high temperature chambers of 5000 degrees C, controlling the amount of oxygen used, and even adding catalysts to increase efficiency in the breakdown of this waste. And all of this with less pollution than is presently being created at the Molokai Electric Power Plant! There are many byproduct options that can come out the other end, including ammonia, nitrogen fertilizer, diesel, synthetic gas or syn-gas, plastics, and products for road construction. Some of these byproducts can even be used to turn turbine engines that produce electricity.
There’s interest by a team of experts to create this facility for the island, and under the control of the community. This would be the start of energy independence, but there’s still a way to go in fine-tuning the planning process and also choosing which product or products best fit our needs, because each product requires its own unique facilities. Some research will need to be conducted on how much rubbish can be processed daily to feed this process, and for how long.
The bigger issue is there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency in changing the situation other than creating more mountains like Pu`u Opala. The other issue is it doesn’t make sense to give someone else control over more of our waste to make more money from it when we should be the ones coming up a plan to capitalize on our opala. The conversion of green waste into compost is a good start, but we need to focus on turning this mountain of garbage into a usable energy product the community can benefit from. It all starts with us.