Demolition: Where does the waste go, with more on the way?

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Anyone passing through the Ala Moana area can’t miss the rumble of demolition at what used to be the Sears wing. We wanted to know where the large piles of rubble end up, and what’s the plan for an even bigger building boom ahead?

Before something new goes up, something old must come down, the first bang in what’s becoming a new building boom for retail and condos in urban Honolulu.

But when throwing away part of a mall, where does it go? Like the other island waste, it heads out west.

“All we get is the trash that nobody wants,” Nanakuli Neighborhood Board Chairwoman Cynthia Rezentes said. “We’ve had the only construction and demolition landfill for many, many years now, and every time you see a project like that, or the rail project you know more and more is coming into our yard.”

The boss at that landfill — Nanakuli’s PVT — lays out the scope of what’s going on and coming up. First, they’re taking in much of the Ala Moana rubble, as is neighbor West Oahu Aggregate for recycling, but that’s nothing compared to what’s coming up.

“It’s probably one of the bigger third but it’s really not one of the big projects,” PVT General Manager Stephen Joseph said. “We’ve had the military housing projects that are much larger projects, and the rail project will be a much larger project than sears over a longer period of time.”

So we asked PVT — from the mall now to the train later — show us where and how they can handle it. They took us through just about every inch of the place. They’re about to mine an old section — like an archaeological dig but to recycle what’s buried.

“We have a 40-foot ship buried out here from years ago, the First Hawaiian Bank building, all the concrete from that,” Joseph said. “We have whole spools of copper wire.”

Even after recycling up to 80 percent of what they’re taking in, there’s room to grow to hold whatever can’t be repurposed.

“We’ll be maybe 40 feet higher than here and we’ll extend all the way out to the buildings you see in the background,” Joseph said. “Between what we’re going to recycle out we’ve got about 12 to 15 years in here.”

But just because it can fit doesn’t ease all the neighbor’s worries about playing host to downtown’s building-boom cast-offs.

“Our city government needs to start taking a bigger picture look at everything that’s going on the island and look at it from cradle to grave,” Rezentes said. “What goes on to start a project and how do we get rid of stuff?”

Some stuff contains toxins, such as lead-based paint, asbestos, contaminated soil and more. PVT showed us the layer upon layer that’s supposed to keep it from budging.

How long will it last?

“They have projected over 200 years, that’s as far as they projected on it,” Joseph said.

Every load that comes in comes along with a project testing report

“This is one coming out of various locations on the rail project,” Joseph said, flipping through a stack of data sheets. “So you can see how thick they can be. This is all sampling results for all the stuff that they’ve done, so it all has to be cleared before it can come in.”

The area neighborhood board chairwoman suggests, how about handling more of it back where it comes from in the first place?

“You need aggregate and what have you down there, you can crush it down there,” Rezentes said. “Is there a way to recycle that locally, on the same site, within the same area so we’re not hauling stuff back and forth across the island and reusing as much as we can?”

It’s an idea the area councilmember says could work.

“From here on,” Honolulu City Councilmember Kymberly Pine said. “We definitely want to make sure we’re working with all of our developers that are putting up these big projects to make sure that their effects on our landfill are minimized.”

She says rail will be up for discussion first.

“I have a meeting with HART this week and I’d like to include this in the conversation,” Pine said. “We want to make sure that the carbon footprint and the footprint of all the waste is minimized on our community.”

The rail authority HART has a sustainability plan.  Log onto

But KHON2 asked for more details specifically about construction waste. They said most of the waste is expected to come from concrete and asphalt, which they plan to recycle out in West Oahu. Soil from drilling will be re-purposed at rail’s baseyards and turned into fill for other parts of the project.

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