Kapa‘a Couple First in Nation to Convert Septic to Groundbreaking Eco-Friendly Technology
By Amanda Kurth
A Kapa‘a couple is leading the way for environmental change after converting their home septic system to one more eco-friendly.
On Thursday, June 2, several community members gathered at Robert and Magenta Zelkozsky’s home where their newly converted septic tanks into a Greywater Combination System were demonstrated and blessed.
The system was converted as part of a pilot project in partnership with Wastewater Alternatives & Innovation, or WAI, Cinderella Eco Group, and Environmental LLC. WAI Executive Director Stuart Coleman helped to host the home treatment demo on Thursday. He said the Zelkozskys are the first homeowners in the nation to convert to this system.
“It’s really neat, Robert and Magenta Zelkozsky have worked for years and years with Surfrider Foundation and they wanted to be innovators,” Coleman stated to the gathering of county leaders and residents.
The toilet, developed by Cinderella Eco Group, provides a water-free toilet and safe sanitation to the global market, as waste is burned by combining pressure from below with radiant heat.
The Norway-based company explains fresh air is then directed into the combustion chamber and the exhaust gases are filtered before they are released into the air.
The application of this Cinderella system could potentially mitigate Hawaii’s chronic sewage spills as a modern alternative to maintenance-intensive composting toilets, supporting a cost-effective and eco-friendly cesspool conversion technology.
When looking back, Robert Zelkozsky said he was a part of the problem, describing the lack of educational material he has been aware of in his 47 years on Kaua‘i.
Now, in his mid-70s, Zelkozsky said, “That’s 70 years of flushing I have to live with,” he continued, adding, “the logistics were simple, and I hope that this home project inspires others.”
The system that Zelkozsky’s implemented cost roughly $30,000. However, Coleman said cost for residential conversions may vary depending on the soil at the property. However, he added he believes WAI could convert home septics for under that amount.
When asked about Hawaii’s high-priced utilities, the Zelkozsky’s said their bills went up roughly $50 a month compared to the time before the decision to convert was made.
“The cost is worth it in the long run,” Magenta Zelkozsky said.
While it seems like an expensive burden to place on the homeowner, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed in November 2021, helps municipalities and property owners convert old septic systems.
“It’s like FDR’s New Deal,” Coleman said. “It’s a huge amount of money, and we have the potential to access that federal money, but we have to apply for it.”
The Zelkozskys had to apply with the Department of Health to convert their septic to the Greywater Combination System. While Coleman agreed Kaua‘i County is ahead of the game finding ways to be eco-friendly, the process to convert septic systems is mired in obstacles.
Currently, the DOH runs applications for the Greywater Combination System through the Housing office.
“Right now DOH is saying that they’re understaffed. We have a chance to get that burden off the homeowner, but only if we act,” Coleman said. “We should make this an election issue because that’s a lot of money for homeowners who don’t have it.”
“Councilmembers Mason Chock and Luke Evslin have created something that can be a model for the entire state,” Coleman said, adding, “Right now the money has to go through the DOH and then to the counties, but they don’t give money to state or counties to hire people to process it.”
Along with the joint effort of the DOH to better understand the impacts of wastewater on the environment, the County Council worked with Water Resources Research Center and voted to support system upgrades, after act 132, a comprehensive statewide study of sewage contamination in nearshore marine areas, passed the Hawaii State Legislature in 2018.
“Luke and Mason then secured $1.2 million for this year to start outfitting homes near waterways,” said Zelkozsky, a program the county hopes to continue.
The program involves state revolving funds, a fund administered by a U.S. state for the purpose of providing low-interest loans for investments in water and sanitation infrastructure.
“The Environmental Protection Agency wants to see this work for Hawaii and they’re ready to send the county someone to help set up an efficient processing system for property owners,” Coleman said.
A solution could soon be that nonprofits come in to help distribute funds and oversee projects.
And as the Zelkozsky’s property was the pilot project for WAI, the very first of its kind in the nation, the process was lengthy due to the requirement to follow the letter of the law.
“I’m really glad, and that WAI secured the Innovation Grant, and that we’re doing it here,” Coleman said pointing to Robert and Magenta, adding, “This is a three-to-four-billion-dollar issue for Hawai‘i.”
Among some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding conversion, the Zelkozsky’s said the potential for a noisy off-put of the incinerator kept the couple hesitant at first.
“If you go online and read the literature, it states 54 or 56 decibels, kind of like a dishwasher,” Robert said, adding, “there is kind of a burning paper smell when the incinerator starts, but nothing foul.”
For more information on how to get involved, visit Wastewater Alternatives and Innovations at waicleanwater.org.